Review: ‘The Secret: Dare to Dream,’ starring Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas

August 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” 

Directed by Andy Tennant

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New Orleans area and partially in Nashville, the dramatic film “The Secret: Dare to Dream” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) presenting the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash:  A widowed mother who is financially struggling meets a stranger with a secret who upends her life in ways that she does not expect.

Culture Audience: “The Secret: Dare to Dream” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted but formulaic movies that promote the power of positive thinking.

Katie Homes, Aidan Pierce Brennan, Sarah Hoffmeister and Chloe Lee in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Photo by Alfonso Pompo Bresciani/Lionsgate)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” is the type of movie where it’s very easy to predict how it’s going to end, even if people don’t know that this scripted drama is inspired by Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling self-help book “The Secret.” Yes, the movie is utterly formulaic and a little preachy, but it’s elevated by the very good performances of stars Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas, who have utterly believable chemistry together as two people who change each other’s lives for the better. The rest of the cast members also do a fine job of bringing this heart-warming story to life.

Directed by Andy Tennant (who also worked with Lucas on the 2002 romantic comedy “Sweet Home Alabama”), “The Secret: Dare to Dream” hits a lot of the same beats as movies that might end up on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. But what separates “The Secret: Dare to Dream” from movies that are usually made for television is how terrific the casting is in “The Secret: Dare to Dream.” Viewers of this movie can recognize parts of themselves or people they know as the story unfolds.

The movie’s screenplay by Bekah Brunstetter, Tennant and Rick Parks could have been ruined if the wrong actors had been cast. But everyone brings an authenticity to their roles in a way that it looks they’re portraying people who really are like these characters in the real world. The cast members don’t come across as just actors saying their lines in a contrived and fake environment. (It also helps that the movie, which primarily takes place in Louisiana, was shot on location.)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” begins with the arrival of a tropical storm called Hazel that’s ready to batter the New Orleans area. Miranda Wells (played by Holmes), a widowed mother of three, is at her job on the day that the storm is supposed to hit that night. Miranda (whose husband died more than five years ago) is the manager of a restaurant called Middendorf’s, a casual mid-sized eatery that’s owned by Tucker Middendorf (played by Jerry O’Connell), who comes from a wealthy family in the area.

Miranda has made a good deal that day to buy some late-season soft-shell seafood, and she’s praised for it by Tucker, who happens to be her boyfriend of about three years. Miranda has an early-afternoon dentist appointment, where she gets some disappointing news: She has to have a root canal, but since she opted out of dental coverage for her health insurance, she’s going to have to pay the out-of-pocket expenses, which she can’t really afford right now.

How bad are Miranda’s financial problems? Before she went to the dentist’s office, she’s seen calling her bank to tell them to reverse the charges on a bounced check, which is a check that she probably didn’t think would be presented to the bank as quickly as it was. The receptionist at the dentist office notices that the cost of the root canal is distressing to Miranda, so she asks Miranda if Tucker might be willing to cover the expenses. Miranda quickly dismisses that idea, “because tings are complicated because he’s my boss.”

Meanwhile, a handsome stranger from Nashville is seen checking into a nearby boutique hotel. His name is Bray Johnson (played by Lucas), who is a mechanical engineering professor at Vanderbilt University. Bray, who has an easygoing and friendly manner, tells the hotel’s front-desk employee Sloane (played by Sydney Tennant) that it’s his first time in New Orleans.

What Bray doesn’t tell her is why he’s traveled to New Orleans: He needs to deliver a legal-sized envelope to Miranda. (What’s in the envelope isn’t revealed in the movie until much later in the story.) Bray notices that Sloane is reading LSAT tutorial books to prepare for law school applications. Bray and Sloane talk about her goal to become an attorney, and he wishes her good luck.

Bray is carrying the envelope with him when he stops by Miranda’s house unannounced in the afternoon. She isn’t home, but her son Greg (played by Aidan Pierce Brennan), Miranda’s middle child who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is there because he’s taken a sick day home from school. Greg is out by a backyard creek when Bray first sees him, and they have a pleasant conversation where Greg mentions that his late father was an inventor.

Greg also seems to be interested in mechanics and science, so mechanical engineering professor Bray and Greg form an instant bond. Greg tells Bray that Miranda will be home after 4 p.m., so he can come back then to deliver the envelope. Greg also asks Bray not to tell Miranda that they spoke because Greg isn’t allowed to talk to strangers. Bray promises to keep their conversation a secret.

Meanwhile, Miranda’s mother-in-law Bobby Wells (played by Celia Weston), calls Miranda to express how worried she is about the leaky roof in Miranda’s house because of the impending storm. Miranda’s declines Bobby’s offer for Miranda and Miranda’s kids to stay at Bobby’s house during the storm. It’s pretty clear early on in the film that Miranda has a pattern of being too proud to ask for help, even when her life is falling apart.

Miranda picks her other two children up from school: teenage Missy (played Sarah Hoffmeister) and Bess, also known as Bessie (played by Chloe Lee, in her film debut), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Missy is cranky and on edge because her upcoming 16th birthday party is going to be held on the same day as a party thrown by fellow classmate who can afford to have food trucks at her party. Missy thinks her own party will be a flop because her schoolmates will prefer to go to the fancier party.

Missy resents that Miranda doesn’t make enough money for them to be financially secure. Missy has wanted to get a computer for quite some time, but Miranda can’t afford it. By contrast, Bess is a sweet-natured kid who doesn’t cause much of a fuss.

While Miranda is driving home with her two daughters, Missy and Miranda get into an argument, which causes Miranda to be distracted from the road. Miranda ends up having a minor fender-bender accident with the car in front of her. The accident causes the front bumper on Miranda’s car to fall off. And who’s the driver of the other car? It’s Bray, who’s not as upset by the car accident as most people would be.

Miranda makes profuse apologies to Brady and mentions that she has car insurance, but her policy has a $5,000 deductible that she can’t afford. Bray sees how upset she is and kindly offers to fix the front bumper for free. Miranda can’t believe her good luck, so she says that Bray can follow her back to her house and work on the car there.

When Bray follows Miranda to the house, he’s surprised to see it’s the same house that he was at earlier in the day, and he realizes that the woman who hit his car is Miranda. Bray decides to wait to give the envelope to Miranda, since she obviously has other things on her mind. Bray sees Greg again, but they both pretend that they’re meeting for the first time.

When Bray introducers himself, he tells Miranda and the kids a little bit more about himself, but he doesn’t mention the envelope. While Bray (with Greg watching) works on the car outside, Missy looks up information about Bray online, and sees that his story about being a Vanderbilt University professor is true. She shows the proof to Miranda, and they both feel a little better knowing that Bray seems to be honest about who he is.

When it starts to get dark and the storm begins, Miranda invites Bray to stay for dinner. Bray’s almost Zen-like demeanor prompts Missy to ask Bray if he’s a Buddhist. He says no, but he does spout some platitudes that indicate that he’s a deep thinker who believes that thoughts can be turned into reality.

For example, Bray tells Bess: “We have to be careful because we get what we expect.” And in the kitchen, when he shows the kids how magnets have unseen forces, he says that people’s thoughts are like magnets: “The more you think about something, the more you draw it to you.”

The kids all want to have pizza for dinner, but Miranda says no. But just as Bray is telling them that thoughts will manifest themselves into reality, he asks the kids to imagine what kind of pizza they want. They give vivid descriptions. And then, like clockwork, during the rainstorm, a pizza delivery guy is at their door with some pizza.

It’s not magic. It turns out that Tucker had ordered the pizza as a thoughtful surprise. Miranda thinks it’s a lucky coincidence. Bray has a look on his face as if he thinks it’s not a coincidence. (And he utters this line later in the movie; “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”) Bray and Miranda also look at each other in a way that maybe something else is happening between them that’s more than politeness between two strangers.

Through a series of events, Bray ends up staying in New Orleans longer than expected. He also opens up to Miranda about his relationship status. Bray, who has no children, went through a painful divorce more than 10 years ago because his ex-wife cheated on him. He also hints that he went through another devastating event, which is shown in a flashback.

Meanwhile, Tucker notices that Miranda and Bray are getting closer as platonic friends, so he makes moves to assert his romantic relationship with Miranda, who doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get married again. Bobby approves of Tucker being Miranda’s boyfriend because Tuck is nice to Miranda and the kids and because Tuck is rich. Bobby wants her grandchildren to have a more financially stable life, so she tells Miranda not to doing anything that would ruin Miranda’s relationship with Tucker.

And what exactly is in that envelope? Although the relationships are easy to predict in this movie, what’s in the envelope isn’t that easy to predict. But when it’s revealed, it will permanently alter the lives of all the main characters in this story. The mystery of what’s in the envelope is another reason why “The Secret: Dare to Dream” will keep viewers hooked into finding out what will happen.

The movie is capably directed and the scenic cinematography is good, but the movie’s main appeal is with the human relationships and how personalities are realistically portrayed. When Bray starts sharing his life philosophies and gets some of the people in the story to begin thinking about their lives differently, he doesn’t come across as “holier than thou” or a “too good to be true” preacher type. His emotional pain is just beneath the surface of his calm demeanor, and Lucas does a great job in making Bray a very believable human being who’s learned a lot from his life experiences.

Holmes gives a richly nuanced performance as a single mother who wants to be a “superwoman” to the outside world, whereas on the inside she’s also in emotional pain, as well as vulnerable and fearful of how she’s going to get through life. Miranda doesn’t pretend to be perfect, but she learns some lessons about how asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Part of the movie’s obvious message is not about what problems people have but how they deal with those problems.

A movie doesn’t have to be Oscar-worthy to be enjoyable. Many times, it’s about how convincing the movie is in drawing viewers into its world and how a movie makes you feel after you’ve seen it. “The Secret: Dare to Dream” sticks to a certain formula that people can expect, especially in how the story ends, but the movie’s positive message makes it an uplifting ride along the way.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released “The Secret: Dare to Dream” on digital and VOD on July 31, 2020.

Review: ‘Flipped’ (2020), starring Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte

April 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson in “Flipped” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

“Flipped” (2020)

Directed by Ryan Case

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and Mexico, the satirical comedy “Flipped” has a racially diverse cast (white, Latino and a few African Americans) portraying the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A husband and wife who aspire to host their own home-renovation show end up being forced to work for members of a Mexican drug cartel.

Culture Audience: “Flipped” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, but the premise of the comedy wears thin about halfway through the story.

Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte in “Flipped” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in “chapters” that look like episodes. The satirical comedy “Flipped” is one of Quibi’s flagship movies that began streaming on the service on Quibi’s launch date.

“Flipped” takes a concept that’s ripe for parody and wastes it with a dumbed-down crime caper that becomes repetitive and runs out of creative steam long before the story ends. Funny Or Die is one of the production companies for “Flipped,” which was directed by Ryan Case and written by Damon Jones and Steve Mallory. Despite some occasional laugh-out-loud comedic scenes and good efforts from the “Flipped” actors, they’re not enough to make up for the overall mediocrity of the screenwriting.

The married couple at the center of “Flipped” are Cricket Melfi (played by Kaitlin Olson) and Jann Melfi (played by Will Forte), two frequently unemployed, bitter and delusional people who consider themselves to be smarter and better than the “common people” they have to interact with in the real world. Cricket and Jann (who live somewhere in the Los Angeles area) also have a lot of resentment toward people who are more financially successful than they are. Cricket and Jann think that most rich people get financial success through luck or dishonesty, not intelligence or talent.

The irony is that Cricket and Jann have none of the intelligence or talent that they think they have. In the beginning of the story, Cricket has been fired from her job as a sales clerk at a Home Depot-style retail store called Fair & Square. Her supervisor tells Cricket that too many customers have complained about Cricket for being abrasive and rude. Cricket responds to being fired by smashing several store mirrors on the ground.

Around the same time, Jann also gets axed from his job as a theater director of a middle school. Jann wants to stage a school musical called “Children of the Fire,” which is based on a true story of 12-and-13-year-old children who died in a fire in the local area. The musical is obviously a terrible idea, but Jann can’t understand why school officials and parents want him fired over it.

While simmering with anger and self-pity at home, Cricket and Jann (who are having problems paying their bills) commiserate with each other on their living room couch about how they think they’re underappreciated in the world. Cricket says, “Is this our life now? Are we destined to be two people with vision living amongst the blind?” Jann adds, “I think people are intimidated by us because we’re ahead of our time.”

As they’re watching TV together, Jann and Cricket jeer at a home-improvement show called “Pros & Connellys,” starring a cheerful married couple Chazz and Tiffany Connelly (played by real-life married couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn), who do tasteful but bland renovations of middle-class houses. “Pros & Connellys,” which is on a network called HRTV (Home Renovation TV), is “Flipped’s” obvious spoof of the real-life Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Fixer Upper” show on HGTV.

While watching “Pros & Connellys” with contempt, Jann and Cricket tell themselves that Chazz and Tiffany are mediocre hacks. And lo and behold, there’s an announcement on the show that HRTV is looking to cast a new home-renovation show starring a married couple who could be the next Chazz and Tiffany Connelly. The auditions are open to the public and the winners will get to star in the new show. Jann and Cricket immediately decide that they’re the ones who deserve to win the contest.

With nothing to lose, Jann and Cricket buy a “fixer-upper” desert property for a very low price: $3,400. But there was a catch in the deal: Jann and Cricket bought the property sight unseen. And when they drive out to see the property for the first time, of course it’s a dirty and broken-down dump.

But the delusional Jann and Cricket think the house has a lot of potential for their tacky tastes. As they break down some walls, they come across a shocking discovery hidden in one of the walls: a large pile of cash totaling $500,000. Cricket and Jann can’t believe their luck. Or is it luck if they make the wrong decision on what to do with the money?

Instead of turning the money over to authorities, Jann and Cricket keep the cash and spend it all on redoing the house with trashy and gaudy decorations (including plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawn) and hiring a TV crew to film their HRTV audition video. But, of course, stealing that amount of hidden cash means that whoever owns the cash will eventually come looking for it. And, of course, chances are that whoever hid that cash is probably involved with something illegal.

Sure enough, three members of a Mexican drug cartel show up to retrieve the money, and they menace Jann and Cricket when they find out that the dimwitted couple spent it all. The leader of this trio of enforcers is named Diego (played by Arturo Castro), who reluctantly lets Jann and Cricket talk him into watching their HRTV audition video to get his feedback.

He actually likes what he sees, but Diego and his henchmen still kidnap Jann and Cricket to take them to Mexico and murder them. Just as Jann and Cricket are about to be killed and buried in their already-dug graves, Diego announces that he’s changed his mind. He tells Cricket and Jann that he’ll let them live if they “pay back” the amount of the stolen cash by doing free renovations for his home.

Diego is so pleased with the renovations that he recommends Jann and Cricket for home renovations to other members of the drug cartel. Among these “clients” are Diego’s boss Rumualdo (played by Andy Garcia) and Rumualdo’s  wife Fidelia (played by Eva Longoria), who live in a lavish mansion. And that’s what happens during the most of the story.

How long will Cricket and Jann be stuck in Mexico paying off their debt? And will they be able to submit their HRTV audition video in time? Those questions are answered in “Flipped,” which goes downhill about halfway through the story when the “fish out of water” concept starts to wear very thin. There’s a cringeworthy scene of Rumualdo and Jann singing a cover version of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (also known as the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) at the quinceañera of Rumualdo and Fidelia’s daughter.

Castro’s comedic performance as Diego is actually one of the best things about “Flipped,” but he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as he deserves. Diego comes across as a tough guy, but then he’ll make off-the-cuff remarks that reveal another side to him, such as when he laments that people don’t show enough respect to Pottery Barn.

Forte has made a career out of playing tone-deaf dolts, so there’s nothing really new that he does here as Jann. Olson’s Cricket character (who’s the more dominant and aggressive partner in the marriage) has some standout comedic moments, but she becomes more of a shrieking shrew as the story keeps going.

Garcia and Longoria have characters that are written in a very hollow and generic way, so ultimately their talents are underused in “Flipped.” And some people might be offended that “Flipped” panders to negative stereotypes of Mexicans as drug dealers. (Almost all of the Latino people cast in “Flipped” are criminals or connected in some way to the illegal drug trade.) But regardless of the race or ethnicity of the criminals in the story, “Flipped”  comes across as an idea that should have been a 15-minute skit instead stretched into an 80-minute comedy that wears out its welcome.

Quibi premiered the first three chapters of the 11-chapter “Flipped” on April 6, 2020.

2019 American Rescue Dog Show: Hallmark Channel expands show to two nights; see photos and videos

January 28, 2019

American Rescue Dog Show
“American Rescue Dog Show” host Rebecca Romijn (Photo by Kim Nunneley/Alexx Henry Studios, LLC)

The following is a press release from Hallmark Channel:

Hallmark Channel’s second annual “2019 American Rescue Dog Show” presented by Pedigree premieres as an expanded, two-night event, Sunday, February 17 and Monday, February 18 (8 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel. The special focuses the spotlight on various breeds adopted from shelters and rescue organizations across the country vying for top dog in the world’s most adorable categories. The “2019 American Rescue Dog Show” is hosted by Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell, who are joined by co-hosts Ross Mathews and Larissa Wohl as they cover all the action ringside and backstage. Guest judges are pet rescue advocates Bill Berloni, Debbie Gibson, Brandon McMillan, Mike Rowe and Lisa Vanderpump.

The “2019 American Rescue Dog Show” will once again highlight the heartfelt traits and benefits of mixed breeds and rescued purebreds, including Afghan Hounds, Corgis, Golden Retrievers, Huskies and many more. Categories include Best in Couch Potato, Best in Wiggle Butt, Best in Underbite, Best in Talking, Best in Snoring, Best in Senior, Best in Short ‘n Sweet, Best in Special Needs, Best in Smiling and Best in Belly Rubs. The top 10 dogs will face off in the finals where one proud pooch will be crowned Best in Rescue. In addition to the competition ring, the show will highlight the importance of fostering homeless dogs and adopting from local animal organizations.

The mission of the “2019 American Rescue Dog Show” is to celebrate rescue dogs in a personality-driven competition. The goal of the show is to shine a light on these incredible pets and inspire viewers to adopt their next dog from their local shelter or rescue organization. Whether already in homes or waiting to be adopted, these dogs are all heart and full of personality.

As the presenting sponsor, Pedigree is closely aligned to the show’s mission. The Pedigree  brand has worked tirelessly to help support the transformation of shelter dogs into pets with loving, forever homes by donating good food for the cause, and millions of dollars through the Pedigree Foundation to shelters and rescues across the country. To that end, Pedigree Foundation will provide a total of $100,000 in grants to the winners’ shelters or rescues.

Serving as the show’s official mascot is the network’s own rescued and adopted pet, Happy the Dog. In addition to starring in movies and specials, Happy the Dog is a certified therapy dog and emotional support animal.

“2019 American Rescue Dog Show” is produced by Michael Levitt Productions. Executive Producers Michael Levitt and Jennifer Schulz are both animal advocates and rescuers whose lives are dedicated to increasing awareness of pet adoption. Levitt, an accomplished TV producer, and Schulz, a communications professional for pet brands and organizations, joined forces to create a show that is both entertaining and heart-warming. Their goal is to celebrate rescue dogs with the hope of inspiring Hallmark Channel viewers to adopt their next pet. Throughout the show, Adopt-a-Pet.com will be showcased as a great resource for viewers to find their next pet.

About the Pedigree Brand

The Pedigree Brand is the number one brand of dog food and treats in the world, feeding more dogs than any other brand. The Pedigree Brand offers a wide variety of products and formats for dogs at every life stage. The Pedigree brand is built on an unwavering glove for all dogs and a commitment to dog adoption. For more information, please visit www.Pedigree.com.

About Pedigree Foundation

Formed in 2008 by Mars Petcare, the makers of Pedigree food for dogs, Pedigree Foundation is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization working to help end pet homelessness. Through no fault of their own, nearly 3.5 million dogs end up in shelters and rescue organizations every year, and nearly half of them never find a home. Pedigree Foundation helps increase dog adoption rates with grants and best practices that support the good work of shelters and dog rescue organizations throughout the United States. Its vision is a day when all dogs are safe, secure, cared for, fed well and loved. For more information on how you can support the foundation, visit www.PEDIGREEFoundation.org

About Hallmark Channel’s Adoption Ever After

Working in collaboration with the country’s leading animal rescue and welfare organizations, activists, distribution and advertising partners, and celebrity influencers, Hallmark Channel’s Adoption Ever After aims to dismantle common misconceptions about shelter animals, provide resources, inspire the public to adopt, and ultimately create a future where every pet has a loving home. The initiative shines a spotlight on the countless lovable pets in our nations shelters through annual on-air programming specials like Kitten Bowl, Hero Dog Awards, and The American Rescue Dog Show, as well as strategic partnerships, consumer marketing campaigns, public service announcements, and grassroots efforts.

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