Family for Christmas

What About the Children?

This is a 2015 movie that I have seen a couple of times. It was on again last night and it got my attention again. This review is more of a rant. And not about the sexist patriarchal message it sends. No, this is one of those time travel movies with children in it and as usual, that makes it very problematic. A career-oriented Lacey Chabert meets a magical Santa who whisks her into another version of her life. One in which, if, 10 years earlier, she had stayed with her college boyfriend and not gone to San Francisco for an internship. In the version of her life she is thrust into, she is a suburban mom happily married to said boyfriend. She has two children she doesn’t know, and we are shown photos of them as babies and growing up with the alternate version of Lacey. Jumping to the end, when she wakes up again back to her “real life” as a career-oriented journalist, she wants to go back to her husband and children she has come to love. She finds that same Santa, and he tells her that she can’t go back, she can only make other choices going forward. The husband is alive and well with another life. But what about the children? They have been wiped off the face of the earth. They had personalities, thoughts, fears, love, friends, and even souls if you will, and they are just gone. They never even existed. That is horrific and tragic. Never have even existed is even worse than dying too young. At one point, if I interpreted it correctly, she goes to their school and they never come out after dismissal. In a Richard Curtis time travel movie, About Time, the hero could go back in time and make other decisions to get it right, only as long as he had no children. Then there were rules and restrictions. The only other way this trope can work is if it is crispy clear that the whole other life experience is only a dream. That is not the case in this one. At the end, she meets up with her old boyfriend who is still available 10 years later, to live her life going forward but this time including love and family with this guy. She still remembers her alternate life and her kids. I don’t even want to think of the effect these memories will have on her life and decisions going forward. Mind. Boggled.

Lacey Chabert is funny and touching in this, and the movie, if you just ignore all of the metaphysical and existential dilemmas is a good fish out of water story. I like time travel tropes. This one is often compared with Tea Leonie and Nick Cage’s Family Man. I need to watch that movie again to see how the children thing is handled. I can ignore all of the other paradoxes the time travel tropes present and just enjoy the movies for the interesting situations they present, both funny, dramatic, touching, and uplifting., But not if they involve children being erased. That is a bridge too far. I don’t know how to rate this. I’ll just give it a 5.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Five More Minutes: Moments Like These

Five More Minutes: Take Two. Will there be Three?

This is one of those dramatic heartfelt Hallmarks that show on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. It is a follow-up to last year’s production based on the country song, Five More Minutes. In both, a grieving person gets 5 more minutes with a dead loved one. It looks like it may be an annual thing. I gave the first one 8 out of 10 stars, and I gave this one the same rating.

Ashley Williams is on a roll with me. She plays Kaitlin, a still-grieving widow of a 10-year-old boy, her husband having died 4 years earlier in a car wreck. Her performance was considerably toned down from her old Miss Perky McPerkison energy. She should play brave grieving widows more often. She still flashes that killer smile, but you know what? The girl can’t help it. There is some concern about her son, who though a nice kid, has become more and more withdrawn and introverted since his father’s death. Kaitlin goes home to Colorado from Los Angeles to spend Christmas with her husband’s family and decide what to do with her beloved home which has been vacant for the last 4 years.  She has received a very tempting job offer from a regular client but she would have to relocate to London.

While at a local Christmas fair, she meets a nice handsome man, Matthew, who it turns out was an old schoolmate and friend of her husband. They really hit it off, but the relationship suffers a blow when he fails to disclose that he is the representative of a huge corporation that covets her house and land. Luckily for their budding romance/friendship, her trust is restored with his explanation, apology, contrition, and his very positive relationship with her son. Also, in a clear conflict of interest, he is helping her to fix up the house in order for her to get the best price possible from his employer or another party. This seemed very shady to me.  His employer, who is also a friend and kind of worships the ground he walks on because of his honesty and integrity (?!) lets this go for some reason and in fact wants to hire him for his New York office.

Meanwhile, her son is having short encounters with progressively older boys every few days. They disappear mysteriously but not before leading him to friendship, community involvement, and finding his hidden talents.  He is finally healing and blossoming in this new community of Hollowford. Cameo Alert: Nikki Deloach as Clara Bingham, the art teacher and lead in the first Five More Minutes.

Everything comes to a head when she decides to sell the house to Matthew’s business partner for a ton of money and move to London. Things start to fall apart with her relationship with her son, who wants to stay in Hollowford,  the sale of the house, and her relationship with Matthew. She goes down to the basement in despair and what she sees there shows her that the boys her son has mentioned are none other than her dead husband coming back to help their son and who, in a  kind of spooky jump scare, then appears to her. They talk for 5 minutes.

The kid actor was fantastic with a layered, touching, and authentic performance in a part that could have been annoying. I can take or leave Lucas Bryant, but he made a good match with Ashley Williams.  I liked that when Matthew and Kaitlin felt that surge of sexual attraction, they actually admit and knowledge that to each other openly. That is actually quite unusual for Hallmark couples to do. Usually, they just gaze soulfully or have an almost kiss which is not attempted again until the very end. The owner of the development company that had a signed contract on Kaitlin’s house, did something at the end for no good reason. It was weird and made no sense. Nevertheless, I could watch another one of these Five More Minutes movies with no hesitation whatsoever. It’s a good concept, and so far they have been well done.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Ghosts of Christmas Always

“All is as it Should Be.”

There is one word for this Hallmark Christmas movie and that is “Amazing”. I’m amazed at the writing of both the original plot and the clever and funny dialogue. Yes, it is based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens which is hardly original, but I have never seen such a creative take on the story.

For centuries and centuries, every Christmas season teams of 3 ghosts (all of whom died on Christmas) are sent out worldwide to “Scrooge” hand-picked mortals who need to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was Scrooged in the 1800s and it changed his life. In fact, he wrote a book about it. We meet the 3 ghost team who are the focus: Arlene, a cynical no-nonsense Asian woman (brilliantly played by Lori Tan Chinn), A wise, warm and sophisticated Reginald Vel Johnson (did I hear a reference to Die Hard come out of one character’s mouth?) And the young and beautiful Kat Marley played by Kim Matula.. But this year, something weird is going on. The man they are sent to “scrooge”, Peter Barron isn’t perfect (he is a bit of a coward with his awful father) but he is kind and good and filled with the Christmas Spirit. Arlene (Christmas Past) does her number on Peter, and Kat (Present) comes along to help. Peter and Kat get to know and start to fall for each other. They give Peter the courage to stand up to his father and the 3 ghosts return to headquarters, a little confused, but mission accomplished. But Oops. Charlie, the angel in charge, in a humorous turn by Blair Baker, screwed up big time. It was Peter’s father that was supposed to have been given the scrooge treatment! Or is it? They have to go back, but I’ll stop there with the plot. But it is not until Christmas Future steps in that we are given the final piece to the resolution. There are lots and lots of threads that come together and many layers to this funny and touching tale. The mysteries that wind through are solved in a very satisfying way but with enough clues to give the viewer a fair chance to figure it out on their own.

All of the actors were new to Hallmark, and they were all fantastic. I think it is significant that they didn’t use any popular Hallmark mainstays as a crutch. I’m not sure this would have worked with a Lacey Chabert or an Andrew Walker. I loved the self-aware sense of humor the writer exhibited.  Two of the “Scroogees” know what’s going on immediatelywhen the ghosts come to visit because of all of the Christmas Carol-based movies that they have seen. Scrooged with Bill Murray is a favorite. But also a Carrie Fisher version, that is “highly underrated.” That would be Hallmark’s own It’s Christmas, Carol! Only Hallmark devotees would know this. It’s kind of an inside joke partially because it is rated very low.

The detailed attention to the sets, the wardrobe, the graphics, the casting, the character building, and well, just everything, shows that Hallmark knew that they had something special here and they were proud of it. They have every right to be.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Our Dream Wedding


I liked this one right from the beginning. Two medical students, Natalie and Scott, sending out their applications for residencies, are very much in love. We meet her family who also loves Scott. Sometimes you just get tired of two strangers meeting cute and going through the old enemies-to-lovers thing. Natalie is a perfectionist who always has a plan and is in control. Scott is a more fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy. This is demonstrated by his proposal of marriage to her out of the blue when it had never even been discussed. She turns him down, and frankly, it did seem like very poor timing. They are about to do their residencies and there is no guarantee they would even be in the same city for years. But anyway, he is heartbroken and she is conflicted because she really does love him. She goes to Mimi her grandmother and Mimi pulls out her magic wedding veil. Natalie is shot 10 years into the future so she can get some clarity by experiencing life married to Scott. She gets plopped down a couple of days before her sister’s wedding which Natalie is organizing because she is so organized. Needless to say, the marriage is happy and successful. There are some blips, starting with her fainting upon seeing she has two kids and the whole situation. She falls and hits her head and gets knocked out. This gives her an excuse when she acts weird and forgets things she never knew. The couple gets peeved with each other, feelings are hurt, and there is even some bickering, but all in all the marriage is a success. She wants to go back to make things right with Scott,  but Mimi tells her that is up to the veil. When the time finally arrives, I really liked that Mimi explains that when she goes back to trying on the veil 10 years ago, she will think that what she experienced was all a dream. I like it when these little time travel dilemmas are explained. Her “heart will know the truth” and she will know what to do about marrying Scott if she listens to her heart. But did she hurt him too deeply? Is it too late?

There were some minor problems with some of the details. Back to reality, she rushes to the airport to stop Scott from getting on the plane to Chicago and is freaked out when she thinks she missed him. Why didn’t she just text him not to get on the plane? 10 years in the future and everyone looked the same and so did the world. Where are the flying cars? And most egregious of all, The mother of the bride, the maid of honor, and the grandmother all wore white to her sister’s wedding! In the end, Scott and Natalie are engaged, but the probable conflict with their immediate career paths, which is the main reason she turned him down to begin with, is swept under the rug. But all in all, it was a nice story with no festivals, exotic locales, or other gimmicks to fill in the time. UPtv keeps it simple. The acting was really good, and there were touching moments, a little drama, a little humor, and some learned lessons. I particularly liked the actor who played Scott, who was cute, but in a normal guy kind of way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 23, 2022

Rip in Time

Hall of Fame Worthy-It’s About Time!

I had very high hopes for this one, and I was not disappointed. It debuted on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries which serves as the home of more serious movies that don’t fit the usual Hallmark Romance mold. It was written by C. J. Cox who penned one of the best Hallmarks in recent years, Love Strikes Twice, as well as the Reese Witherspoon favorite Sweet Home Alabama and Rene Zellweger’s New in Town. It starred Niall Matter as Rip Van Winkle’s estranged son who travels from his time to ours and meets single mother Torrey DeVitto, and her son and father, the current owners of the old Van Winkle property.  Time Travel stories are always a safe bet and Niall Matter is a favorite of mine. Torrey DeVitto, not so much, but she was fine in this. Niall seems to have an air of melancholy behind his eyes, which was perfect for this role.

The fish out of water aspect was well done with enough shock and awe at the modern conveniences to make it believable and entertaining, but not so much as to distract from the story and relationship building.

When Torrey, armed with a rifle, and her son first discover Rip cowering in the barn, they flip on the light:

“Are You a Witch?!”

“She was, last Halloween.”

“Please do not shoot me, Witch!”

“Keep Calling me that. Give me a reason.”

“Oh. You are a spinster forced to wear pants to protect your family. I did not mean to offend you.”

“I am not a spinster, and I am offended.”

There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than the family not believing his story, trying to figure out who he is really, hiring him as a temporary farmhand rather than having him locked up, and their adventures in New York City to a hypnotist. It is there that he is taken to a doctor which results in a musket ball being removed from his leg. A musket ball that has not been manufactured since 1830 from an old (Revolutionary) war wound. Explain that one, doubters! Because of that musket ball, their last stop is with a quantum physicist (Ben Wilkinson) who posits that time travel is possible and Rip’s story might be true.

Most of the movie is relationship building with Rip helping Torrey’s bullied son, dealing with the jealous suspicions of his rival for Torrey’s affection, a police deputy, and of course the slow burn romance. Also, a festival. Of course.

The writing was full of authentic details, including bringing in Washington Irving’s classic tale and a lecture on farm machinery of the era. Glad to learn about flax breaks.  Not to mention Ben Wilkinson attempting to explain the science behind time travel to a stunned Torrey and a bewildered Rip.

The romantic conclusion was a little too pat, with many future challenges remaining unaddressed.  But the reach across time, by means of a backpack, provided a reconciliation between Rip and his misunderstood father that was touching and satisfying.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 24, 2022

A Kiss Before Christmas

A Tale as Old as Time

Alternate time plots are very popular. And for good reason. As oft-repeated ad nauseum as they are they also automatically offer a lot of opportunity for and promise of drama, comedy, wonder, suspense, and emotion. Usually, at least at Hallmark, a woman is dissatisfied with her current circumstances, and magic happens. She goes back in time to a fork in the road. This time she takes the other fork and experiences what her life would then have been like. In the end, no matter what the permutations in this basic plot, she ends up embracing the importance of family and during November and December, “The true meaning of Christmas.” It’s a tale as old as time.

In this one, in a change of pace, it is the man who takes a time trip. Joyce and Ethan are a happily married couple in their mid-’40s. Teri Hatcher and James Denton are each pushing 60, but they are very attractive and it was a suspension of disbelief I was happy to roll with. I believed them. James is a successful lawyer, but he is overworked and is not at the top of his profession. So he has a middle-class lifestyle rather than the affluent, luxury-filled position of his colleague, Sean. He is an ethical good guy, and not willing to be ruthless and unscrupulous in his pursuit of success. But now financial concerns and family tensions due to his lack of family time are starting to get to him. Enter magic Santa. He goes back to that turning point and takes the other path. He now has the luxurious home, the fancy car and the big office. But no family. Luckily Ethan’s two kids were adopted so they still exist and are not wiped off the face of the earth. So that metaphysical and spiritual dilemma is avoided, thank goodness. His wife is no longer a school teacher but a high-profile lawyer who is constantly at loggerheads with Ethan’s firm. She wants to save things, they want to tear them down. He enlists her help, to her consternation, because she is the only one he knows he can trust.

He can’t go back to his old life until he learns his lesson. Actually, he learns his lesson pretty early, but magic Santa shows no mercy until the pain and horror of losing his family brings him to the brink of despair. Magic Santa ain’t playing.

Adding to the enjoyment is Marilu Henner, the owner of the law firm who is there to ensure Ethan will still get his promotion while doing the right and ethical thing and that Sean, his corrupt bully of a colleague gets his comeuppance. Teri and James had great chemistry (no surprise there) and took a well-worn plot to the next level.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 23, 2021

Five More Minutes

No Beer, Trucks, Guns, or Jesus

I approached this one with a lot of misgiving. I mean, a story based on a country song? By Scotty McCreery? But to my surprise, it was pretty good. Nikki Deloach, who is good as always, is a dedicated Art teacher who is losing her job and is having doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend. She wishes she could have just five more minutes with her beloved late Grandpa who always gave her great advice.

When she goes home to celebrate Christmas(?) Thanksgiving (?) I don’t remember, she finds a journal written by Grandpa when he was a young man detailing his first lost love.  She gets together with an old ex-boyfriend, and they decide to try to find her. Or was that another movie, Christmas Together with You?  They’re already starting to run together a bit. At the same time, a young man shows up for a job at her store because he said her grandpa was going to hire him. He turns out to be a wonder and is the best employee ever. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that something spooky is going on. There are lots of clues, which I’ll keep to myself.

Sherry Miller plays Bonnie, Clara’s mom, who lost her husband about a year ago. She looks great. I always think of the actress with fondness because she was in one of my favorite TV romcoms, This Matter of Marriage, back in the late ‘90s when she was a young whippersnapper. Highly recommend. She has her own romance along with her daughter finding love with her ex, Logan, and dumping her current beau. I liked that Bonnie did not approve of the ex, who behaved badly dumping Clara when they were teens, and kept giving him the stink-eye. She came around though.

There were a couple of things I did not like. Despite both Clara and Logan being established as Hallmark paragons of niceness, they both behaved badly. Logan kept putting the moves on Clara even after she said she had a boyfriend. And Clara totally dumped Logan and canceled an invitation for the family-less guy to spend Thanksgiving (?) Christmas (?) with her family just because he was called back to active duty. This was really low behavior and hardly patriotic or compassionate. Also contrary to the Hallmark ethos.  The third thing I didn’t like was the under-use of Leanne Lapp who played Clara’s sister and a favorite of mine.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 22, 2021

Next Stop, Christmas

The Time Travel Express

This was a fairly straightforward time travel story elevated by the appealing cast and good acting. Even the bad boyfriend had his charms. I love seeing all of the fresh faces. Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca, who was excellent) is a busy surgeon in NYC who takes her family for granted. She does not want to go home for Christmas since her parents’ divorce and her sister’s struggles with adoption. Too stressful and depressing. She remembers the last good family Christmas she enjoyed 10 years ago when her parents were still together and she turned down a marriage proposal from a now-famous sportscaster. On her way back to her apartment to spend a stress-free solitary holiday, she is diverted by Christopher Lloyd and finds herself on a magical train back home to that Christmas of 10 years ago. While there, she sees opportunities to redirect the course of her and her family’s lives: save her parents’ marriage, accept her ex-boyfriend’s marriage proposal, and help her sister. She also reconnects with her childhood friend who has been in love with her his whole life.

The cast was fantastic. Come on, Lea Thompson (her mother) and Christopher Lloyd (the Train Conductor) in a time travel movie? Sign me up. There are many nods to Back to the Future, but it does not distract from this story. Her parents unraveling marriage and her sister’s fertility troubles were engrossing and realistically done. Her ex-boyfriend, though adorable, was not a match for her. No harm, no foul, no drama. Her childhood buddy was appealing, looked like Justin Timberlake, and was obviously her destiny. Obvious to everyone but her. Talk about dense.

Loved seeing Erika Slezak looking her age, but great, with her smiling eyes. There were the usual things that didn’t make sense as with most time travel stories. The big reunion that really wasn’t at the end seemed problematic. What other big chunks of her two paths through time don’t match up? Angie is going to have some interesting times ahead. Not to mention everyone that knows her. The one weak point was the character of Chloe, who was super annoying and totally unnecessary. All in all, this was thoroughly enjoyable and engaging.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 8, 2021

Boyfriends of Christmas Past

It’s Only a Dream…

Despite the heroine’s almost deliberate lack of insight into her own behavior being very annoying, I did enjoy this one. Hallmark seems to be making a real effort this year to break out the box of its own making. Time travel is a common Hallmark trope, but in this one, it’s a little different with Lauren going back in time (in her dreams) with 3 of her former boyfriends. They are trying to tell her something: she has sabotaged all of her previous relationships as soon as they try to move to the next level of commitment. Yes, it’s another take on A Christmas Carol, but Hallmark has not used this in a long time, to my memory. As opposed to fake boyfriend, bad city person being transformed by small-town life, save the beloved fill-in-the-blank from a corporation, or royalty in disguise. Or food competition, snowed in, or sad widow/widower for that matter. Or magic Santa. Or kid matchmaker. Somebody stop me.

Anyway, The breakups always occur around Christmas, and now a life-long relationship with her best friend who’s in love with her is in danger. It is not until a trip into the future where she sees her soulmate proposing to another girl that she finally sees the light. I’m afraid I failed to see why this girl was able to attract such nice and attractive boyfriends (except the first one, who wore lipstick and dressed like an elf for some mysterious reason). But the actress was good. It’s not her fault her character was such a pill. The very handsome and charismatic actor who played her true love was a stand-out. What a find! He looked so familiar but I hadn’t seen him in anything else. I couldn’t figure it out until I finally realized that he is the image of Jon Krasinski only Indian. He stole every scene because he was just so darned cute!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 2, 2021

Love Strikes Twice

22 Going on 37

What did I just see? It was on the Hallmark Channel but was it really a Hallmark movie? It was a time-traveling romantic comedy but that is all it had in common with the usual Hallmark. No pageant-worthy hair, wardrobe, and make-up here. Just great writing, attention to detail, talented acting, and fresh faces.

We enter this rare territory zeroing in on a 37-year-old childless corporate lawyer, whose marriage is about to fail because her main priority is to make partner in her firm so she can “swim with the sharks”. She is troubled about her marriage and confides to a friend that the crossroads in her life seemed to be when she worked with a childhood friend, now her unhappy husband, to try to save the local library building. After an unexpected encounter with her old  boyfriend, now one of the “sharks” she yearns to swim with, she wonders if she should have chosen him rather than the humble high school teacher she is now married to and has so little in common with. If only she could go back in time and with her sophisticated skills and knowing what she knows now about the law, be successful in saving the building. That would certainly change everything for the better and set her life on the path it was meant to be on.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of what happens, because there is so much that happens both personally and professionally. The details and the authenticity make the movie complex, heartfelt, funny, and very entertaining. It is tight and action-packed. There is not a boring minute in it. No usual meaningless filler or tired tent pole scenes. It borrows from many other time travel romantic comedies too numerous to list, but I was most reminded of the delightful 13 Going on 30. Needless to say, when she goes back 15 years to save the library, she also saves her marriage, her husband’s career, her father’s health, and turns her brother’s and her best friend’s lives around. It all culminates at her parents’ 25th anniversary, when she hits her head again and she shoots forward to their 40th, and her real, now transformed, life.

The acting is great all around, but the star of the show is Katie Findlay , whose looks and talent brought even more life and charm to the role that was already well-written. Had she not been cast, the movie still would have been wonderful, but she made it a 10 out of a 10. I fear she will soon be going on to bigger and better things. Sadly for Hallmark-land, I predict we will not be seeing her again on this Channel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 4, 2021