A Winning Team

Winning is not the Only Thing, but it is Fun.

Kristoffer Polaha is one of my favorite Hallmark leading men, so I had high hopes for this one. It turned out to be so boring and by the book, that there is not a whole lot to talk about. Other than Kristopher Poloha’s presumably creative choice of a new hairstyle, that is. For this movie, his usual combed, parted,  and reliably swept back locks are hanging floppily and product-free over his forehead. It took some getting used to.

Emily is a star professional soccer player who has an anger management problem on the pitch. She is finally suspended from the team for yelling at a ref one time too many and goes home to spend her downtime with her widowed brother and her niece. She is very competitive and when she hobbles her niece’s laid-back soccer coach (Polaha) in a pick-up game, she is wrangled into coaching the team until he can get his ankle set. Naturally, after making a few adjustments over the protestations of the coach, they actually start to win games. This is a welcome change of fortune for the girls and their parents and Coach Ian, seeing their newfound joy in the game, is pretty much on board although they still clash over his play for the fun of it mentality and her play to win over everything approach. The story follows its preordained path with the opposites attract pair falling in like then love with trivia contests, two-legged races, and rope course adventures sprinkled in. Meanwhile, the soccer team’s winning ways continue and they are headed for the Championships.

 There is a bit of a subplot with Emily’s niece trying out for a part in a school play in addition to her love of playing soccer. Emily supports this as she is realizing, thanks to Coach’s more balanced approach to team play and also spending time with her family and other soccer-free activities,  that there is more to life than winning at sport.

Predictably, since her professional team can’t win without her she is unsuspended and summoned back to her team just in time for her to be torn between her new team’s championship final game or her professional career. Of course. All continues to go by the Hallmark playbook to the end, as it has throughout the movie.

Nadia Hatta as Emily Chen does a credible job of portraying the combative soccer star. You can feel her anger and hostility radiating out of her when her no-nonsense coach suspends her. That is softened a little too quickly once she is in the fold of her family. I would have liked to see a more gradual learning curve there. Once she is away from her professional team, she is quite nice despite her competitiveness. And more cute than scary in her tangles with coach Ian, her inevitable love interest. Polaha is as good as ever, and by the end, I must concede that his more sporty and casual hairstyle choice was probably for the best.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Unexpected Grace

Past is Prologue

When I read what this was about, I started watching it fully expecting to turn it off.  It is about a mother whose teenage daughter has passed away who befriends the daughter of a single widower. Before she died, Toni, the daughter,  released a balloon in the air with a short letter searching for a best friend. It is found by 13-year-old Grace two years later who was forced to move into their new town by her father because of his job. He didn’t consult her about the move, and she is resentful. Their relationship has suffered over and above normal teenager/parent friction. She is having trouble fitting in at school and making friends. When Grace follows the notes invitation to write back, I thought I saw where this might be going. I was on high alert and expecting to pull the plug as I did not want to get entangled in a maudlin grief fest and a mother trying to replace her dead child with a vulnerable live one.

Well, it didn’t go that way at all. The mother,  Noelle, does respond to Grace’s letter, but under her own name. It is true that she does not tell Grace that Toni has died nor that she is her mother but I felt it was out of empathy and sensitivity and that she did not want to hurt or discomfort Grace. She responds to Grace’s emails a couple of more times, but, realizing that this is heading down a dangerous road, tells Grace the truth about who she is and kindly tells her that there will be no more emails.  She thinks that is the end of it, But to Noelle’s consternation, Grace shows up at Noelle’s door still wanting to be friends with Toni.  Noelle still can’t bear to tell her right then that her daughter has passed away. But shortly thereafter, along with Grace’s dad, Jack (Michael Rady), who she has gotten to know and like thanks to a series of coincidences, does tell her the truth about Toni’s passing. This decision of not to prolong the misunderstanding flies in the face of how things usually go with  Hallmark stories. Grief is to be wallowed in, and open communication is to be avoided at all costs.  So instead of the plot getting stalled over a prolonged deception and lack of truth-telling, the plot explores other aspects of the characters’ progress toward peace and happiness. We follow Grace’s path towards success in school and making friends, Her father’s possible romantic entanglement with a neighbor, Jack and Grace’s continuing frustrations with each other and how they resolve them, and Noelle coming to terms with her imminent divorce.  And of course Noelle and Jack possibly making a romantic connection. There is another crisis later in the story where it looks like Grace and Michael may have to move away again, negating the progress toward healing that, together, all three of the main characters have made. How it is all resolved brings all of the threads together in a touching way.  It hints that it was more than just coincidences that brought these three together for their own good and the good of the community. Perhaps a little celestial magic and angelic guiding hands were at play as well. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There is a lot of Shakespeare in this as well.

All of the actors did a wonderful job, but special kudos go to  Erica Tremblay, a serious young actress who has appeared in several other Hallmark movies. I’ve always liked Michael Rady. Erica Durance not so much, but she is a good actress.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Game of Love

Let the Games Begin

I think so highly of Kimberley Sustad that I’m not sure whether I liked the non-Kimberley Sustad parts or not. I suspect if her character had been played by anyone else, I would have absolutely hated her. As it was although she was very flawed with many issues to tackle,  Sustad managed to make her sympathetic and likable enough that I could put up with her with patience until she started to see light. If only how she managed that could be formulated, bottled, and distributed to her colleagues.

Audrey is a quest and adventure game designer. She is a loner in her personal life-her only friends are an older woman whom she plays board games with at a cafe, and an unseen person that she plays a word game with that is not Words with Friends, but she does “chat” quite a bit with him (or her). Of course, she is not interested in romantic love and dating is a big no-no. If she were a guy, she would be living in her mother’s basement. Right off the bat, she has to be shamed into going on a blind date she had already agreed to arranged by her only friend. She shows up to the elite restaurant in a hoodie and jeans. She has the grace to be embarrassed when her date is a real hottie and smartly dressed. They get thrown out because there’s a dress code. Her date calls her out on her rudeness and arrogance and leaves. Her behavior did not endear her to me either. But you know, Kimberley Sustad.  In her professional life, she is known as “Not a Team Player.” She works on her own and doesn’t want help or input from her fellow employees. She wears headphones all the time to keep people away. Nice little detail. When eagerly approached by Patti, a hero-worshiping new employee, adorably played by Christin Park, as yet uncredited on IMDb, she is politely dismissed. Actually, how Audrey treats her is very rude and unkind, but Kimberley plays it so you don’t hate her.

Needless to say, because PLOT, Audrey’s world is about to be rocked. Her boss tasks her to work with a marketing consultant (Matthew, played by Brooks Darnell) to develop a game that will finally win a coveted award and the deadline is only a month away. It will be called “Love Life” and is based on the search for love (Uh-Oh!). Audrey is horrified but she has no choice. Kimberley needs a strong co-lead to keep up with her, and Brooks Darnell fills the bill nicely. Matthew has the opposite problem from Audrey in that he is anxious to fit in and be accepted by everyone. Everything he does is “on trend.” Meanwhile, he has lost his true self.

Audrey does a terrible job developing a game about something she has no use for and finally realizes, thanks to Matthew, that she needs help from others. With the help of her newly formed team, including adorable sweet Patti, they start to make great strides. Both Matthew and Audrey learn about each other and start to like each other. We learn why they are the way they are and they help each other become better. Audrey learns how to play well with others and also starts to get close to Matthew. Matthew starts to shed the need to pretend to be something he is not. He takes down the trendy anonymous abstract painting in his stark apartment and replaces it with his own original photographic art. Symbolism! This from his former profession that he had been pressured to give up as too quixotic and unprofitable. Their learning curve which involves a lot of game stuff takes up the bulk of the movie, and got a little long.

This movie did not escape the usual “big crisis with only 18 minutes to go” syndrome. Kimberly backslides into her old ways which was stupid and didn’t make sense, but it was brief. Had to be because only 5 minutes to go by this time. Anyway, the Hallmark Happy ending followed apace with love, happiness, and professional success for all. Oh. And guess who her Not-Words-with-Friends chat buddy turned out to be? Yup.

The backdrop of game development was pretty interesting and unusual, the script had some nice details, the set decoration and graphics were on point, and the romance was serviceable. The acting and character development were its strength. There was not a lot of humor, except stemming from Sustad’s delivery, warmth, and authenticity.  It was good but not outstanding. All in all, I give it a 7 1/2 on my special Hallmark scale.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

The Love Club: Nicole’s Pen Pal

It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie

As of this writing, this same movie is on IMDb two times with different titles, different ratings, and different reviews.  Both iterations have the release date as March 4, 2023, but one has 9 reviews dating back to February 10. And that right there is the most interesting thing about this movie.  Will this ever get corrected? I’m betting no. They still have two Cindy Busby movies, Heart of Down Under mixed up with Follow me to Daisy Hills mixed up with Love on the Menu and it’s been 3 years. This one, titled The Love Club: Nicola’s Pen Pal or just  Nicola’s Pen Pal or just The Love Club (episode 1) is the first of a 4 part series. Each episode is a stand-alone and features one of the 4 women in the club. The Wedding Veil double trilogy seems to have been the inspiration for this concept. It is a good concept and a pretty clever strategy to theoretically increase the ratings of all 4 movies. Once people start on a set of something, it is human nature to try to finish it. Unfortunately, this was not good. Any romance based on lying and cheating is just not good. Do not recommend. Nope. FGI (For Get It).

On New Year’s Eve, 10 years ago, Nicola is stood up by her anonymous male pen pal she has grown close to through their correspondence. His support and compassion saw her through a difficult period. At that New Year’s Eve party, she meets 3 other women who are also dealing with romantic disappointment. They form The Love Club and agree to help each other through romantic problems and crises. Despite her recent engagement, she has never been able to forget her connection with “J.” When her unsuspecting fiance leaves for a business trip, she finds her old letters and decides she must find “J.” to see if he is “the one” instead of her fiance. With the help of her 3 friends, she narrows the field down to 2 possibilities. Instead of going  to see him and just explaining the situation and asking whether he could be her pen pal of long ago, she conceives this elaborate plot to impersonate the interior designer he has hired for his Bed and Breakfast to covertly figure out if he is J and see if they still have a “connection.” (despite the fact that he stood her up all those years ago and they haven’t been in contact since.) Believe it or not, it just gets even more silly and stupid from there. I won’t belabor all of the boring ridiculousness-es that follow. But for one, it turns out that Josh (J.) is her pen pal, but he did not write the letters because he had dyslexia at the time. He confesses this after they start to fall in love so she is all angry, betrayed, and self-righteous. Keep in mind that she hasn’t told him she is engaged to be married and has been and still is impersonating a professional colleague behind his back. It is not until the end that it comes out that even though he didn’t put pen to paper, he actually dictated his thoughts to a guy who essentially wrote them out for him. So after all of the drama, shenanigans, and resulting stupid rabbit holes (and more lies) which I won’t even go into, he actually, for all intents and purposes, although a cheater, was her pen pal after all. Why didn’t he just say that at the beginning? Dyslexia of the vocal cords? So I guess he was kind of lying about lying? she surely wouldn’t have had a problem with him being a cheater in his class. With her being a cheater too and all.

All of this hot mess, which includes a very uncomfortable and creepy massage scene, is acted with the energy of a deflated wet balloon. The two leads are Hallmark veterans Marcus Rosner and Brittany Bristow. Marcus does the best he can and isn’t too bad. But Brittany acts her role as if she is under some kind of duress or a spell of some kind. The other three in the series have already been made and are showing somewhere mysterious. Possibly Canada? But I won’t be seeking them out.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Made for Each Other

Careful What you Wish For…

When I saw this starred  Matt Cohen, I was prepared to love this, and it didn’t let me down. I loved him in Holiday Date, and his funny delivery and endearing demeanor were on target in this one as well.

Rachel, played by lovely new-to-Hallmark, Alexandra Turshen, is a sculptor and art teacher who is content in her life but has always wanted to be an artist, rather than just a teacher. She also would not be adverse to a serious boyfriend, but she is very very picky. “Her ideal man is a complete fantasy. If you’re human you don’t stand a chance.” Too picky for her obnoxious almost bullying mother who wants nothing more than for Rachel to get married and have babies. Veteran Hallmark actress Teryl Rothery as the mother has never been so unpleasant and unlikeable. God, she was terrible. Teryl overplays it a bit. Thank goodness, Rachel has a backbone, does stand up to her, and refuses to be manipulated into dates with men her mother relentlessly arranges for her. One evening, Rachel and her best friend, played by Illeana Douglas, are in her studio and Rachel shows her her life-sized sculpture of “her perfect man” who is “ Kind, smart, loyal, dedicated, and someone I can bring home to my Mother. He’s a hopeless romantic, we are always on the same page, No conflicts, A best friend.” Illeana tells her the Jewish legend of the Golem, and with the help of an ancient amulet, Rachel’s “perfect man” comes to life the next morning. Meanwhile, we have met David Cohen, Rachel’s soon-to-be brother-in-law’s best friend. We know right away that he is the one. Although he is a lawyer, he is following his dream of being a professional stand-up comedian. Besides being very attractive in a slightly unconventional way, he is funny and smart. He seems to like Rachel, but kind of sees through her tough exterior as well. Another point in his favor is that Rachel’s mother does not like or approve of him.

Rachel and “Clay,” the statue come to life as her perfect boyfriend, become an item. Funny scenes ensue, including the introduction to her mother, his love of eating all the time (he turns out to be a wonderful cook), and generally just being a fish out of water. He becomes a model because he has a perfect body thanks to Rachel’s skill as a sculptor. The humor flows naturally from the fact that he really is perfect. He is smart and kind, loyal and dedicated. He loves Rachel, is a hopeless romantic, and is even a good kisser. Rachel is enamored. At first.  Rachel also gets to know David, who has well and truly fallen for her (those longing looks!)  but believes he does not have a chance against her perfect boyfriend.  Even he cannot help but like the guy! But she likes David. “He is blunt, sarcastic, and doesn’t care if he annoys me. He is the opposite of Clay, but I like talking to him. He makes me laugh.”

 It all comes to head as Rachel is trying to get up the courage to enter a prestigious art contest. She confides that she is afraid to risk rejection. Clay tells her not to do it because he doesn’t want her to be sad if she doesn’t get in. “If it makes you feel bad, it must be wrong.” David challenges her to follow her dream despite the risk, just as he is doing in his own life. At last, Rachel realizes that a partner that always agrees with her, likes everything she likes (or pretends to,) and will never challenge her, is not what she wants.

When Rachel wins the Art Contest, Clay cluelessly steps up to propose in the middle of her big moment thank-you speech. It is a funny and chaotic scene with friends and family either thrilled or incredulous. In the confusion, David, who was supposed to be across town having his big break, runs up with a half-dead bouquet of flowers and confesses that he is in love with her. “This is the most exciting exhibit we’ve ever had!” says the museum director.   A flower breaks off (symbolically) and Rachel has found her happy ending with the perfectly imperfect guy. Clay is gracious in defeat. David remarks, “he’s even perfect when she’s breaking up with him!” The highest compliment I can give this Hallmark is that it does not have a lot in common with a typical Hallmark except for familiar faces and a happy ending. Very satisfying wrap-up as well.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Welcome to Valentine

Christmas in February

This lost me in the first 15 minutes when struggling artist Olivia tries to corner the gallery owner who is hosting a fancy art gala Olivia is waitressing at. She barges in on the hostess while she is talking with one of her guests in order to show her her paintings on her cell phone. With the help of the soon-to-be love interest, who is an invited guest,  she tips over a tray of soup all over her. Wow. What a clodpole, boorish, unprofessional, and fired.

Since her best friend who has been letting Olivia camp out on her luxurious N.Y.C. apartment’s couch is moving to Chicago and she is no longer employed, she decides to go home and help her sister set up for the big Valentine’s Day parade. Her friend’s cousin (who turns out to be a rich important kinda nationally prominent successful person and who also was the handsome guest at the gallery who bumped into her causing her to douse her potential benefactress with cream of mushroom soup) is driving his Dad’s vintage car to Los Angeles. They all get together to share a ride. But it’s not a road trip romance. First of all, her friend is occupying the back seat, and as soon as she is dropped off in Chicago, they arrive in Olivia’s hometown with over 90 minutes to go in the movie including commercials. In honor of Valentine’s day, her hometown is named Valentine, and it is famous for loving Valentine’s Day and having a parade. It is like a Christmas movie, except in February! I don’t think we’ve ever had a Hallmark set in Nebraska before, and apparently, they say “Hiyah” instead of “Hi” or “Hello” there. It’s a thing. The hero is set to leave for California when his car battery fails. The mechanic screws up the jump start (I mean really?) frying the car’s electrical system. Our hero rightly loses his temper and is rude. I liked him. Since it is a 50-year-old car, it will take a while to get parts, and yadda yadda yadda, you know the drill. It was boring and there was nothing to distinguish this one from all of the other below-average Hallmarks, except it was pretty diverse. Gay pride flag in the diner and lots of black people, which Nebraska is known for (not).

I didn’t like the heroine. Although she didn’t do anything else that was as spectacularly stupid as the disaster at the beginning, she didn’t do anything to win me over from my bad first impression either. And I was not a fan of her false eyelashes or her acting either, for that matter.  I did like most of the secondary characters as well as the hero. Her friend was funny and cute, the hero was as good as the script allowed him to be, and Olivia’s sister was nice and sensible as well. And the diner lady too.

There were two imponderables in the script that further annoyed me. The wicked old witch who was the jealous former chairman of the parade disables the main parade float for sheer spite. Throughout the movie, she has been sitting outside the parade headquarters in the middle of February staring balefully at all the activity. Her time to shine arrives and she gives the float’s vintage alternator etc. to George so he can get out of town. This under-the-hood sabotage is discovered on Valentine’s day morning while George is probably well into Wyoming. To solve the mechanical problem Olivia and her sister make the old harridan the grand master of the parade, which miraculously gets the float running again. Huh? Is the old bat the equivalent of the magic Santa only female and mean? Meanwhile, our hero has pulled over to the side of the road to join a conference call with his Dad and the board of directors. He quits the family business or at least turns down the CEO position he has been elected to.  He wants to “follow his heart” and recover the “soul” of the company by going against his father to establish a charitable arm for the business.  But how is he going to do that if he is no longer with the company or at least not in a position of power? Huh? Huh? He heads back to Valentine to reconcile with Olivia with whom he has had a fight over something or other.

One year later, Olivia is a successful artist working out of Los Angeles, New York, and Valentine, Nebraska. She is the star attraction with the same gallery whose owner she assaulted and embarrassed. George is there too. His employment situation remains unknown.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

A Paris Proposal

Diamonds are Forever and Paris is Always a Good Idea

Going by the previews this had the feel of a placeholder-type Hallmark artificially bolstered by an exotic location.  They hope their loyal viewers won’t notice a mediocre plot, an unengaging romance, and the usual Hallmark set pieces (sight-seeing, festival attending, gala going, etc.) our attention being diverted by the on-location shooting, the foreign accents, and the scenery. And to be sure, we are not spared from a few of the above-mentioned activities. But it was better than that. Of course, the authentic scenery of Paris was a big plus. But the romance was good too and there was plenty of suspense and drama. And no frolicking in the kitchen! And child-free!

Anna and Sebastian are tasked by their boss to work together in Paris to reel in a huge client for their advertising agency.  The two colleagues are poles apart as far as their personalities and approach to their profession. But their boss feels that together, they will balance each other out. Sebastian will help Anna regain her creativity and think outside the box, and Anna will balance Sebastian’s swing for the fences approach to advertising campaigns that ignore such pedestrian things as budgets and other practical considerations. To wit: he once burned down the coat department of his family’s famous and elite department store by staging an indoor promotion that featured flame throwers. So Yeah. He was fired from the business and his family both. Anna is just a stick in the mud. To be fair, the one time she did something unplanned and impulsive was in Paris and it led to a disastrous 1-year marriage and a divorce.  In their initial meeting with their clients, Anna, in a slip of the tongue, inadvertently kinda sorta tells them that she and Sebastian are married. Their clients, the blissfully married owners of Durand Diamonds are charmed. It is A & S’s job to lose.

What follows is the usual keeping up the pretense of being married alternating with crises of conscience for lying to their very nice clients. The two walk around Paris, and despite their totally opposite personalities, they grow closer and start falling in love for reals. They also struggle to come up with a stellar advertising campaign with the added pressure of a rival agency head, who is a nasty piece of work, breathing down their necks. Adding to their guilt and pressure is Sebastian’s estranged family who welcomes Anna into the fold. Oh boy. Even the mean father,  who just can’t let the flame thrower incident go for some reason,  starts to soften toward his son.

Alexa PenaVega is not a Hallmark actress I go out of my way to watch, but I liked her in this. Nicholas Bishop as Sebastian was a charmer and very cute. They were well cast and worked well together. Other pluses were some amusing banter between the two leads and Anna’s fashions, which were quite bold and fashionable. I liked the diamond angle as well. Really tired of chocolate, wine, and baked goods. It all comes to a head during The Big Gala when the nasty rival publicly outs our couple as unmarried liars. They are not only humiliated and lose the account but get fired by their boss right then and there in front of all of the glittering gala guests and Sebastian’s family! They turn on him and basically kick him out of the family. Again.  Hallmark did not spare our couple one bit. Which I also liked. Poor Sebastian. Even Anna yelled at him and blamed him before having a change of heart.

In the last 10 minutes, they start to scratch their way back to a happy ending by each taking the blame, Anna to his family and Sebastian to the Durands. In the “one year later” epilogue, they have opened their own Ad Agency in Paris, have two big accounts (guess who?), and are engaged. The ending montage was cute and clever.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Sweeter than Chocolate

“Love is Worth the Grief.”

I wasn’t exactly bowled by Dan Jeannotte in the previous movie I remembered seeing him in (turns out I’ve seen him in 4 movies) and was not looking forward to this one. Chocolate. Again. Save the little Shop. Again. But he won me over right away.  He brought humor and charm to his character who started off a little smarmy and full of himself but ended up quite warm and sympathetic. And his chemistry with the female lead, Eloise Mumford, was almost tangible.  She has done an excellent job in several recent Hallmarks. She tends to star in more emotional serious scripts, rather than light comedic fare. Probably because she almost always looks like she is going to burst into tears at any given moment. This movie is sweeter and lighter in tone and she handles the banter and romantic comedy vibe pretty well though it’s not her forte.

The plot wasn’t much and has been done before quite recently (eat magic food-find true love). But despite that, thanks to the pairing of the two leads, and some entertaining side stories, I enjoyed it. Lucy and her mother own a chocolate shop that features their magic chocolate cupids. According to the family legend, anyone who is open to love and eats one of them on Valentine’s Day will meet their perfect match. When her best friend does just that and ends up getting engaged to her boyfriend, she is so over the moon that she posts about it. It goes viral and the little family legend gets the attention of a TV producer who sends her ace investigative reporter to do a story on it. In a little twist, she wants a happy feel good story, not an expose. Unfortunately, too used to looking for scams everywhere, he offends and insults Lucy and her shop and gets thrown out. When his editor tells him that a promotion to the anchor position he covets is riding on his ability to branch out from hard-hitting takedowns of scam artists to include more fluffy morning show-friendly pieces, he convinces Lucy to give him another chance. The publicity would boost sales and save their shop.

The romance between ambitious and cynical Dean Chase and shy and vulnerable Lucy is engaging. Lucy has never tried one of her own chocolate cupids because she does not want to open herself up to love and romance. She was painfully affected by how the death of her father devastated her mother for so long. Despite themselves, Dean and Lucy grow closer as the one story has led to a whole series featuring interviews with couples that the magic chocolates have brought together. She needs the sales that Dean’s stories are generating but the orders become more than the shop can handle. Things get overwhelming, a few things go wrong, Dean may be moving to New York, and Lucy does not handle any of it well. She starts to think that the magic chocolates are cursed, and generally gets all weepy and starts to go off the deep end, which Eloise Mumford is very good at. Luckily for the happy ending, Lucy’s mother steps in with her insights, wisdom, and her own backstory, and helps Lucy to understand that even though opening herself to love may sometimes lead to grief and pain, it is worth the risk. And Grandpa “Opa” would approve.

This Hallmark had a nice balance of emotional struggles, humor, character arcs, and romance. A dash of magic and a good message made for a winning recipe.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Love in Glacier National: A National Park Romance

Snow Job

This one left me cold. The plot was the usual boring and predictable with the added bonus of annoying characters (3), examples of lazy incomprehensible plot elements (2 main ones), and downright offensive stereotypes of women (2). It drove my rating below  5 stars, that is, not entertaining but tolerable, into 3 or 4-star territory (not entertaining plus something very very wrong here.) It had some beautiful mountain scenery if you do not mind it was not filmed in Glacier National Park or any National Park at all, or even in this country.  The title of this one would be the worst ever for a Hallmark even if it were filmed in Glacier National Park.

Heather is a world-renowned expert in snow and avalanches. She has a doctorate in the subject and has developed a technology that predicts them with proven accuracy. She accepts an invitation to visit an old friend’s ski resort and install the forecasting equipment. She brings her sister who has spent the last of her and her husband’s savings on IVF treatments to get pregnant. It has been very hard on them and she needs a break while waiting to find out whether this last treatment has worked. Heather meets handsome hunky Chris who is the head of the search and rescue team. He is not only a Luddite who eschews her science-based life-saving technology, he is downright offensive about it. He relies on looking at the weather and sniffing and tasting the snow to determine whether the ski runs are safe. No kidding. His whole team is open-minded and on board, but when he stumbles into her class he rudely stands at the threshold disruptively chewing on a donut, and then leaves. Nevertheless, he is a good father to his motherless young teen daughter Samantha.  That, combined with his hunky hotness is enough for Heather to fall for him despite his disrespect for her life’s work. Especially when he emerges shirtless from the sauna looking like the top half of every action figure ever made and just as plastic. The daughter is played by Amelie Wolf, the daughter of the director. She is a Hallmark regular kid actor and she is fine. Unfortunately, Heather has a rival in red-haired Sonya, a shallow catty jealous massage therapist. She is so unprofessional that when she sees the sparks between Chris and Heather she tries to hurt Heather on the massage table. Sonya is the worst stereotype of a man-hungry desperate female (see paragraph 1) She even comes to his cabin at night to seduce him with his daughter practically in the same room. Amusingly, Samantha calls her on putting lipstick on before she goes to bed. Heather’s sister is similarly enamored by Chris’s hotness swooning and drooling all over him on her sister’s behalf because she needs a man to be happy. (Offensive stereotype #2.)

That takes care of the annoying characters. There were two plot points that were needlessly mishandled. The first was fairly minor. When Sonya shows up at a party where Chris and Heather are dancing, she is told off by his daughter in the one entertaining scene in the movie. She stops Sonya in her tracks. “My dad is with someone smart who chooses Chapstick over lip plumper. Now is not the best time.” Sonya retorts by telling her that she has some things to “talk over” with her dad which comes across as a veiled threat. I was sure curious!  But she leaves the party and the whole thing is just dropped. We never see her again. The more egregious one involves the suspense of whether the sister’s IVF, her last, has finally worked. [SPOILER ALERT] She finally gets up the nerve to take the pregnancy test while Heather is at the party. Tragically it is negative and she looks devastated. But the next morning, all is well and we have a scene where she and Chris’s daughter are yucking it up in a hot tub and jumping out to make snow angels in their bathing suits giggling uncontrollably. She doesn’t even tell her sister the I guess not so devastating news after all, and her sister doesn’t care enough to ask. Again, the whole thing is just left hanging never to be referred to again. Both loose ends could have been easily fixed with a quick edit or two. That they just left it is lazy and contemptuous of their viewers.

Despite her great relationship with his daughter and her attraction to Chris, Heather can not handle his disrespect and his refusal to even consider being open to using her technology as a tool. She pleads with him to trust her and hits him with argument after argument but nothing doing. She is strong and persistent but he won’t even explain himself.  To his surprise and disbelief (!), she walks out on him. This guy. It is only when her method saves his life, the lives of his team, and an injured skier that he admits he was wrong and apologizes.  That’s what it takes. But not before he checks with a male colleague who went to Heather’s training sessions first. What a prize.

The music was annoying and weird. The only other plus besides the scenery and Samantha’s takedown of Red Sonya was that Heather only brought 2 coats. You would have to be a Hallmark regular to understand how ground-breaking this is.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

The Wedding Veil Journey

The Best of the Bunch

At the beginning of the movie, The three friends have gotten together and since they are also enjoying their wine, we know it’s been well over a year since the end of “Inspiration” when we learned Emma was newly pregnant. It’s been a total of 3 years since they first bought the veil. We follow Tracy (Alison Sweeney) home and we see that she and Nick (Victor Webster) rarely see each other, as she works during the day as the head of an art auction house, and he at night at his two restaurants. After talking to her friends, Tracy is inspired to give her marriage the kick in the pants it needs and the two end up going on their long-delayed honeymoon. They decide on Greece, the veil in tow, to lend to Nick’s still single sister in Spain. As in the second installment, we are treated to some gorgeous scenery throughout the movie.

I believe this one was very well done. It was very well put together and although not really comedic, had plenty of amusing scenes, dialogue, and a lot of heart. Alison and Nick’s relationship was very loving and mature. Any rough patches were handled by communication and a sense of humor. At one point, Nick starts surreptitiously doing the cooking for one of the owners of the struggling inn they are staying at. His food is inedible which is both a running gag and a real problem. Tracy is irritated when he starts “working” on their honeymoon, but, no worries, it is handled with no silly drama. There is drama in this one, but it is definitely not silly. Tracy and Nick get close to a cute orphan boy, a talented artist and athlete, but who lives at his school under the rule of a temperamental headmaster who actively discourages his art. As he explains to the interfering Americans, Leo will have to earn his living when he leaves the school and can’t afford to indulge his talent in a vocation that will not support him.  He has no one to fall back on, unlike impractical art majors. The neighbor who was raising him after his parents died had to be put in a care facility for early Alzheimer’s. Leo lovingly sends him his drawings weekly but it is doubtful he even remembers Leo. It is a very tragic situation and when Tracy and Nick take Leo to visit him it is a real tearjerker.

Meanwhile, in the light sweet romance department,  the veil works its magic with the young beautiful Inn owner and the grandson of a wealthy aristocrat played by Jane Asher, a British actress most famous for being engaged to Paul McCartney in the 1960s. When the young man called her “Granny”, it was jarring, to say the least. Equally jarring was learning she is almost 80 years old! Off the subject, but hey, we all love the romance and happy endings Hallmark is famous for, right? After her very public breakup with Paul, Jane Asher met Gerald Scarfe, a famous English illustrator and cartoonist. They have been together for over 50 years, and happily married for over 40. Can we have a movie about that, please?

There was a lot going on in this 6th Wedding Veil movie: Mystery (the veil keeps disappearing) light romance, Humor (the inedible food and the victims’ efforts not to hurt the amateur chef’s feelings) suspense and drama ( the antagonistic head of the school), and some real heartwarming moments involving how Tracy and Nick handle their attachment to Leo and how they help him.  Tracy and Nick have to have a think about their whole lifestyle and the kind of people they are individually and as a couple.  I thought it was well handled, with due respect given to balancing each of their careers with their relationship along with how they handle the situation with Leo. Unlike some of its predecessors,  All of the plot threads were fully developed, interconnected, and well-integrated into one coherent story. We are also treated to a thought-provoking defense of the importance of art in everyday life.

Yes, Autumn Reeser and Lacey Chabert do horn in on Alison’s honeymoon, Autumn on a small pretext, but Lacey flying halfway around the world on no pretext whatsoever. This does serve to illustrate what a good sport Nick is, however. Tracy is one lucky woman. I want to add that Alison’s acting in this was superb. I once referred to Alison Sweeney as Hallmark’s best crier. She is, IMHO, but in this one, her performance was truly moving. And she was funny too.

After a 7th couple is brought together by the Wedding Veil, (Nick’s sister is now married, we hear,) Tracy, whose skepticism is a running thread throughout the series is forced to admit that she has no choice but to believe in Magic.  The movie ends with the women going shopping, being lured into a shop, and tempted by a beautiful antique necklace that, oh no! has a legend attached to it. Everything has come full circle. Well played, Hallmark.

Rating: 9 out of 10.