A Gift to Remember

Nice!

I really enjoyed this one back in 2017, but I never reviewed it. It came up again during Christmas in July or Merry Movie Week or whatever so I decided to re-watch it. I am pleased to say it really held up.

 First off, it was based on an amnesia scenario and thus was able to avoid the city bad/country good rescue the whatever from the evil corporation,” Let’s go to or save the festival!” Hallmark tent poles. It was actually set in Philadelphia although it is debatable whether it was filmed there. Another point in its favor was that this featured an interracial secondary romance, fairly unusual in 2017 for Hallmark. Third and most important were the talents and charm of the two stars Ali Liebert and Peter Porte. Ali has been up and down with me depending on the state of her botox treatments. One of her main appeals is her unusually expressive eyebrows. So when her eyebrows are working, all is well. I know that sounds funny, but it’s true! This is early-ish in her Hallmark career and her first lead role in a Hallmark after languishing in the friend zone for a couple of years. Peter Porte’s acting chops are not up to Ali’s but he is too gorgeous to be real and he seems like a nice guy. They worked well together.

Ali plays Darcy, a shy and reticent bookstore employee who does not like to take chances or rock the boat. She accidentally runs over Peter Porte on her bike sending him into retrograde amnesia. She feels responsible because she is so nice and in her desire to help him regain his memory she starts uncovering clues to his background and identity. By doing this, she discovers she is persistent, a problem solver, and is willing to conquer the fears which are holding her back from going for the job as manager of the bookstore. She figures out that he is rich, has an important job in the literary world, doesn’t like Christmas, and is about to become engaged to his girlfriend. These conclusions make sense given the clues, but don’t make sense as she comes to know Aiden and don’t jive with his gradually returning memory either. So we have a little mystery going on as well as a roadblock to their growing attraction to each other.  When the truth comes out, it all makes perfect sense and all of the details are tied up. (He is single for one thing) Aiden’s real story results in a very nice ending with Darcy meeting his real family, and her little local bookstore triumphing over Mega-book’s ruthless machinations. And she gets promoted to manager. Ali Liebert just has a special spark in this, and she was just charming.

This part is really silly, but I really liked her make-up. It was pretty rather than glamorous until she had a fancy event to attend, and only then did she have the false eyelashes and the red lipstick. It seems like these days Hallmark actresses put on the Glamour Shots treatment just to walk the dog. Oh, the good old days of 2017.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 26, 2022

Falling for a Dancer

Far from the Madding Crowd Meets Maeve Binchy. With a Hint of Pride and Prejudice.

I had never even heard of this almost 25-year-old British historical drama, one of my favorite genres. Someone, to whom I am most grateful, mentioned it in one of the Facebook Groups I belong to. I believe it was the British Period Drama group. Well, I looked into it, read the reviews, decided it was right up my alley, and bought it on DVD on impulse. I forgot to see if it was available on YouTube. (It is.)

Innocent, pretty Elizabeth is seduced by a traveling actor who leaves her pregnant in the Ireland of the 1930s. Since her socially respectable and well-off parents refuse to let her stay at home to have her baby (Oh the scandal), she is presented with two options. Either go to a Magdalene asylum or marry a 40-year-old farmer with 4 young daughters whose wife just died. She decides to go to the asylum but when she walks in and takes a look at the horrors she walks out. She has no other choice but to agree to the arranged marriage with a man old enough to be her father. At least she can keep her baby. It’s quite the culture shock.

What follows is Elizabeth’s life in the country with her new family. Her husband drinks and keeps her on a tight leash but was probably no better or worse than many men those days. Also, we are introduced to her husband’s cousin and neighbor, Mossy, whom he hates.  Mossy, a decent, respected, (and very attractive) man falls in love with Elizabeth at first sight. Elizabeth is not similarly affected.

 Elizabeth has her baby and we pick up the story 6 years hence and we see that Elizabeth has had a child with her husband. She has become a hardworking and loving and loved mother to the girls, except one, who is hostile and never accepts her. We also see that she is enduring a life of boring drudgery but seems to have largely come to terms with it. And always we have attractive Mossy lurking in the background.

One day, she and her wise older friend Tilly go to Dublin with a group for a treat. There she coincidentally meets the cad who is the father of her 6-year-old child and has words with him. She is spotted by one of the party who tells her husband what they think they saw. He is a jealous drunk, and in his rage, he rapes her almost in front of the children. And things continue to disintegrate. (spoilers)

The Drama comes thick and fast with bad behavior on the part of our heroine, more abuse, a scary accident, a tragic accident, homicide, and lots of remorse on the part of several people, a courtroom trial, and another young teen in terrible trouble. And  Mossy is always there in the background ready to help and support. In addition to the bad stuff, we also have a joyful recovery, reconciliation, and hope for change and growth. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when(and this is a big spoiler)

Elizabeth goes to the local priest about her pregnant daughter.

“ … If she’s in trouble, I…”

“No, she’s not in trouble. She’s pregnant.”

“Well if you’re looking for my help…”

“ No, I’m not, Canon. I knew you would want to help, and I just want to reassure you that we can manage by ourselves. I just wanted to be the first to let you know.”

The almost 3 1/2 hour 4 part series ends most satisfyingly and happily. Though we know Elizabeth will not have an easy life, it is a life she freely chooses. There will be struggles but there will be happiness and fulfillment as well. For me, it measured up to the glowing reviews.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 13, 2022

Aloha With Love

Lots of Crying

This one was pretty good with some problems. I liked the actress who played the female lead. Tiffany Smith had unusual strong features that went beyond typically pretty. She reminded me of Jamie Gertz. However, I usually do not appreciate the ubiquitous Trevor Donovan, an often used actor for Hallmark and its clones. This one was on UPtv. He is just so BLOND. His acting is no more than competent and brings nothing special to roles, except a very muscular chest which is shirtlessly shown off to great effect here. He is very popular though, apparently. It’s a me problem.

Gemma is a star architect who works with her boyfriend of 4 years, a realtor, who also works at their firm. She presents a top-notch brilliant proposal for a condominium to a developer. He is crass and insulting to her, presumably because she is a woman. And even though she answers all the questions with which he had hoped to trip her up, he turns the firm down and rudely walks out using the excuse that there are 66 units rather than the 76 he had asked for. Her boyfriend blames her and behaves like a jackass. So right away you hate the guy and are rooting for her to break-up with him. And she does! So now I’m a fan even though she cries about losing him for some reason.

She gets word that her beloved aunt has passed away(more crying) in Hawai’i and has left her valuable property, and a not-so-valuable house to her and her sister to sell or keep as they wish. The one condition is that they have to restore and renovate the tumbledown house first and use Trevor as the contractor who (shocker!) happens to be Gemma’s ex. Obviously we have a “matchmaking from the grave” situation.

All precedes very predictably with the two clashing over the job at first. She just wants a “refresh” so she can get back to her career in L.A. quickly, and he wants the complete renovation the house deserves. They learn to work together, and romance boringly ensues. But Uh oh. Here comes the old boyfriend all contrite because now she’s rich. And he wants her to sell the property to creepy condominium developer and she actually agrees to it. So now I am not such a fan.

We have a very long mawkish sappy scene with Gemma’s father crying about his sister, and a nothing short of miraculous transformation of a shack to house beautiful in 48 hours. Seeing the house as it was meant to be causes Gemma to rethink the sale (just as Trevor predicted). She is still unsure but thanks to her jackass ex publicly and suspiciously  proposing marriage right there on the lawn and arrogant condominium guy stupidly insulting her again (!) (he just can’t help himself) she comes to her senses.

So lots of crying (bad) spectacular scenery (good), male costar I don’t like (bad), new fresh female lead (good), strong supporting characters (good). Impossibly speedy home renovation (complete with Art)-(bad), and impossibly stupid bad guys (bad). Also it was tremendously risky of Trevor to renovate a house, spending dozens of thousands of dollars when chances were it would be demolished in a week or two (bad). It’s a Hallmark 6.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

May 8, 2022

Art of Falling in Love

Poor guy

**Spoilers**

This one started out strongly. I liked Kimberley Sue Murray in Love Upstream. There’s something about curly red hair… and she was very funny and likable. The hero I wasn’t familiar with, but I liked his down-to-earth normal guy looks. It appeared that it was going to go out of the box a bit as there was a bit of a very subtle Christian theme, and the heroine is seen getting alarming dizzy spells and popping prescription pills. Hmmmm… this might be interesting.

Vanessa (Murray) is an artist who gets commissions to paint murals on hospital walls that she doesn’t charge for. She is famous and acclaimed and travels all over the country. She is working on a mural for a children’s wing that Nate designed and she overhears him saying he isn’t sure it fits in with his vision. OOOh, them’s fightin’ words. She spunkily tells him the mural is not for him but for the sick children. Good one, Vanessa! Of course, he apologizes and they make up and the love story commences. We learn through flashbacks that she had cancer and was very close with another cancer patient who died. The dead one is her “guardian angel” and she also left Vanessa a trust fund and a list of activities (take tango lessons, go rock climbing, go scuba diving, take a cooking class, fall in love, get married, stuff like that) to live life to the fullest. She shows him the list and he innocently calls it a bucket list. She freezes up. This is the first in a long line of her giving him the cold shoulder over something she takes offense to or some innocent infraction of her precious privacy.

Things go downhill from there, for me. Despite feeling the attraction and connection (whenever she is by herself she swans around and simpers with happiness at the thought of him) she often acts standoffish and demanding when with him. She will not share and is so closed off and secretive about her past that he thinks she is dying rather than recovering from an illness. He himself is just recovering from a divorce because his wife cheated on him. So he is vulnerable and not into secrets. When he finds her passed out on the floor, a side effect of her medication, he begs her to open herself up and let him in. She states petulantly that she is not ready and says something along the lines of “it is her prerogative and her life to live as she pleases.” When he replies, “Well I’ll leave you to it then,” and leaves, I almost cheered. She sees she went a little too far with her mess and apologizes.

Her nonsensical hot and cold behavior continues until it all comes to a head. He finds out his ex-wife, who refused to have children with him, is pregnant. He is hurt and angry and leaves town to take care of a building emergency in Boston. Finally sick and tired of Vanessa’s predilection to take offense at every little thing and lack of openness, trust, and honesty, he cuts her off. Meanwhile, she learns she has a clean bill of health and accepts another commission in Vermont. He comes back, and she is sulky about his treatment of her (even though she tells his mother she doesn’t blame him) and he APOLOGIZES AGAIN. But of course, she has to torture him some more before she finally “forgives” him. I swear, he is a glutton for punishment because they get married. In the end, I positively hated her which is why I gave this a failing grade despite its strong points. Shout out to Kelly Bishop of the Gilmore girls who played Nate’s mother, the misguided matchmaker.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

February 24, 2022

The Wedding Veil Legacy

Last but not Least

The script was not a challenge for good actors: no great emotional highs and lows, but the whole cast of seasoned Hallmark actors did an excellent job. All handled the good humor and banter with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed Matty Finochio as the assistant, Stanley.

Tracy, played by Alison Sweeney, the third woman in the triumvirate of Wedding Veil owners begins her story by breaking up with her boyfriend, Finn. It is handled very maturely. He has gotten a great job across the country, and Tracy does not want to leave New York or her own great job. They are sad to part ways, but as we have gathered from the previous two installments, they have grown apart lately anyway.

Tracy takes the veil to a tailor(?) to have a snag repaired and meets Victor Webster getting fitted for a tuxedo. There is some good-natured raillery. Allison is planning an important party for her job and is in the market for a new caterer. Her search brings her to a new restaurant accompanied by Autumn and Lacey. Lo and behold Victor is the head chef and part-owner with his family. The meeting between the women and Victor is chuckle-worthy thanks to the three actresses’ comic timing and easy rapport.

The side story of Tracy’s mission to obtain a newly discovered early draft of the famous Emma Lazarus poem for the museum where it can be enjoyed by the public is interesting. It adds some suspense and provides the pretext (Victor might know an investor), along with picking out art for the new location of Victor’s restaurant, fun with food, and rug hauling around, for the promising couple to spend more time together. Alison and Victor make a good pair both age-wise and in physicality.

Unlike the second installment, the plot is tightly written. There are quite a few little stories, but the focus remains on the couple and their developing relationship. Every individual side element gets tied into the whole, including the Emma Lazarus poem welcoming immigrants to America. The continuing mystery of how the veil got to San Francisco is well incorporated into this final chapter and provides a satisfying conclusion involving a lovely coincidence and a twist. After the veil does its job of finding husbands for the three likable friends, it finds its own happy final home.

Of the three movies, I rank the first one the best for its humor, this one second for the well-constructed plot, and the second one my least favorite. 7 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 21, 2022

Sand Dollar Cove

Pier Pressure

Aly Michalka plays a real estate developer with hopes of being able to use her architectural skills who comes to a small picturesque beach town in order to buy the land for her employer to build a beach resort. This one does not vary from the usual template one iota.

Aly was attractive enough but most of her performance was flat and unengaged. She did show some signs of life later in the movie, but for most of it, she acted like she didn’t really want to be there. Not that I blame her, but for goodness sake, suck it up. If you didn’t want the part, you shouldn’t have taken it. Chad Michael Murray played his usual scruffy relaxed self, but I did not like his character. The little town had been devastated by a storm a year earlier and tourism is way off and sorely needs the resort. The storm also decimated his families’ pier which he seems to think is equivalent in importance to the town as The Statue of Liberty is to America. He is seriously obsessed with it and frankly, I didn’t see any signs the town could care any less.  He won’t sell the land unless they buy the pier as well. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. It seems like he would want to keep the pier, but oh well. Poor Aly is being torn in all directions. By Chad, who wants the beach resort built on another plot of land “a short bike ride away from the beach” and her boss, who only wants to build her beach resort on the beach and tear down the bedraggled unsightly pier.  Oh lord.

It will be no surprise that a festival is threatened but saved. Only they call it a Jamboree. The development company decides to just forget it and pick another site in another state and I don’t blame them. Screw CMM and his arrogant attitude trying to dictate terms to a company that wants to save the town and make him a millionaire. Well, you’ll never guess how this is resolved. Chad’s Nana talks some sense into him now that it’s probably too late and he decides that he needs to move forward rather than clinging to the past and sell the beach without the pier. But meanwhile, Aly conceives the brilliant solution of her company rebuilding the pier instead of tearing it down!!!!  What a Concept!!!! Apparently, her plan is so world-shatteringly brilliant that her boss goes along with it. But we never get to see the final product even on paper.

The only other thing I want to comment on is casting the gorgeous 66-year-old Glynnis O’Connor as 40-year-old CMM’s Grandmother A.K.A “Nana”. I mean, do the math. No wonder they had his just retired parents (who were the legal owners of the beach and pier, BTW) out of sight on a cruise to the Bahamas.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

January 18, 2022

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

A Great Cast, but This is Ronny Howard’s Movie

I have just seen this movie again after many years. It was always a favorite, and if I remember correctly I may have first seen it in the theatre when I was a little younger than Ronny Howard was when he played the titular role. It is based on a very short book of the same title by Mark Roby. It is very faithful to it. It has all of the pivotal scenes and most of the small ones. It even expands some characters that play a very small part in the book. The new housekeeper, renamed Mrs. Livingston, to the recent widower, Tom, and his son Eddie has a greatly expanded role. She is perfectly played by Roberta Sherwood and the Spanish lessons are added as well. The role of Dollye Daly played by Stella Stevens and her romance with Tom Corbett’s employee, the radio personality and playboy, is also greatly enhanced. Although Stella competently plays the ditsy, sweet but book-smart Dollye, she is comic gold in her bowling scene and her drum solo. Neither are in the book. We completely understand why Norman, the quintessential womanizer, played by Jerry Van Dyke, is very intrigued during the former, but falls for her hook, line, and sinker when she screws up her courage to favor the nightclub with her unforgettable stylings on the drums.

Glenn Ford is great as the still-grieving father struggling to raise his son as a single father in New York City. Dina Merrill is perfectly cast as the sophisticated career woman whom he falls for. She is not a villainess, but does not have a maternal bone in her body. Shirley Jones plays the warm lovely next-door neighbor whom we know is going to be “the one.” But the movie really belongs to Ronny Howard whose performance brings Eddie to life. He is adorable and real. He makes the funny lines funnier and the sad parts more poignant. When he conflates the death of his goldfish with the death of his mother the resulting hysteria and horror is heartbreaking and terrifying. Tom does not understand and in his panic and pain cries, “A fish is a fish but his mother was his mother!” But Elizabeth does. This was Ronny’s big scene and it is a tour de force. But he handles the subtle scenes masterfully as well. His quiet politeness hiding his uncertainty and suspicion during his first meeting with Rita (Dina Merrill), His fear and desperation when Tom tells him he is going to marry her. His happiness and hope when his Dad finally asks Elizabeth for a date. There is not one phony second in his performance.

This is one of those movies that has something for everyone: Wit, physical comedy, drama, suspense, tenderness, and a slow-burn romance. And it delivers on every one.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 14, 2022

North to Home

Finding Your True North

This is another high-quality offering by Hallmark and was shown on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries. They seem to be using this branch of their network to show productions that go a little deeper and are a little more complex than a romantic comedy. They are more about family relationships, drama, overcoming problems, and learning life lessons. There is a bit of a romance included but it’s hardly the main attraction.

The movie starts off with three sisters and their relationship. The two oldest live in the same city, not in Alaska, and are at odds because the oldest, Hannah, is so wrapped up in her career that she has no time to spare for the younger and her two daughters. She is married happily and, also happily, they do not have any children. The younger, Beth, is a happily married stay-at-home Mom, who is getting tired of that role and feels unfulfilled. She is being tempted to go back to her successful career. The younger sister, Posy, lives in Alaska with the parents. She yearns for travel and adventure but feels obligated to take over their parents’ café upon their imminent retirement. They are all about to meet up in Alaska to celebrate their mother’s 60th birthday which is also the 25th anniversary of a mysterious bad happening.

As the movie goes on, surprising aspects to the girls’ relationship and their family are revealed. All is not as we were first led to believe. The career-oriented Hannah learns she is pregnant (not terminally ill-Yay!). What will be the fallout with Adam her husband? Beth’s husband finds out she is secretly testing the waters of going back to her successful career and feels betrayed. Posey is falling in love with a mountain climber and travel writer which falls in with her dreams of travel as opposed to running her parents’ café.

The lesson of the story is “”sometimes you find your calling but sometimes you’re calling finds you” and each of the sisters in turn learns this is true for them. In the process, a tragedy is explored, a mother is released from a 25 year long guilt, a young man finds closure. And revelations lead to understanding and new paths forward.

The actors were well cast, and their parts well-acted, especially Kimberley Sustad as the middle sister and overprotective mother, Beth. At one point she is accused of “Catastrophizing everything!” I also loved Matthew James Dowden who played Adam, Hannah’s husband. He usually plays sketchy characters, but he was wonderful as an unqualified good guy in this. The one fly in the ointment was the casting of Luke, Posey’s love interest. His looks, demeanor, and speech cried vacant surfer dude, not educated sophisticated world traveler and author. It was laughable. Where was Ali Liebert, the director? Everything else was so good.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 13, 2022

Rose Hill

Good Concept but no Depth-should Have been a Two or Three Parter.

I tried to read the book years ago, but I just couldn’t get into it. Probably because I was too used to reading her medieval romances. My point is that my rating has nothing to do with what a disappointment the movie was compared to the book. The bottom line is that they tried to do too much in two hours. The story was just too big. It needed four hours minimum. Too many characters, too many plot points, too much time elapsing, etc. It ended up being too choppy and just skimmed the surface leaving the viewer uninvested in the characters or the happenings. At least 4 or 5 of the short scenes could have been made into movies by themselves. this was a hallmark hall of Fame production as opposed to just a Hallmark movie of recent years. Fun Fact: this was Vera Farmiga’s first role.

One thing for sure: I might give Julie Garwoods original novel, For the Roses, another try!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

March 11, 2021

The Wedding Veil

Lacey and Lace

This was pretty entertaining and I’m looking forward to the next 2 installments of the trilogy starring Autumn Reeser and Alison Sweeney. This first one featured Lacey Chabert with Kevin McGarry playing the love interest.

Three friends are in San Francisco for their yearly get-together. They are out antiquing and Lacey spies a beautiful vintage wedding veil. The owner tells them that the veil comes with magical powers. Whoever owns the veil will meet their true love while it is in their possession. The girls decide to all buy it together, and Lacey will take it home. She soon meets Kevin McGarry and they have an instant connection. Coincidentally they both live in Boston where they plan to continue to see each other. While at the airport, Kevin sees the wedding veil with Lacey and overhears her having a conversation about planning a wedding that he assumes is hers. (It’s not.) He immediately gives her the brush and leaves. Lacey is confused and disgusted.

They keep meeting up while in Boston because Lacey is an assistant curator of a museum and he is the rich philanthropist who is hosting a gala to raise money for the museum. What follows is a quite amusing series of encounters between the two where Lacey seems very open to a relationship while Kevin thinks she is about to get married. He acts very attracted to her and then keeps backing off, confusing and angering poor Lacey to no end. Meanwhile, he can’t understand why such a seemingly nice woman is acting like a cheat and a tease. It’s Cute. The truth finally comes out after an hour and 15 minutes. The subplot is also interesting. Lacey discovers a dirty and faded 19th-century portrait of a bride wearing a very familiar-looking veil in the Museum’s basement and finds out it is a lost masterpiece. She wants it to be the centerpiece of the gala but it has to be restored in record time. So there is a lot of running around and intrigue over that.

Lacey’s wardrobe choices in this were very odd. She wears a lot of flowery floating low cut off-the-shoulder dresses one of which, I swear, looked like a filmy nightgown. You could see right through much of it. They would have been OK for a formal garden party but not for shopping, at work, or rooting around filthy basements. I’m also not sure I liked the pairing with Kevin McGarry although they were fine individually. The chemistry between the 3 queens of Hallmarkland was off the charts, however.

After Lacey and Kevin tie the knot, Autumn Reeser will be taking the veil to Italy with her to have it researched to see if it’s the same veil in the portrait. The suspense is killing me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 10, 2022