A Castle for Christmas

Hallmark or Netflix? Hallflix? Netmark?

I was pretty much done with Christmas movies until next Christmas or maybe Christmas in July, but I ran across this by accident on Netflix looking for some mindless entertainment before retiring for the evening. And I am a big Scotland fan. A Castle for Christmas is as pleasant as a romance between two 60-year-olds can be. It is a Netflix original and it’s obviously targeted at those for whom Hallmark, UPtv, GAC, or Lifetime cant churn out enough Christmas. Hard to believe, no? Yet here I am. I’m for more diversity in TV romances as far as age is concerned. I certainly prefer a 60-year-old couple pretending to be in their 40s to Hallmark’s old habit of using actors closing in on 40 in scripts written for actors in their 20s and acting like they are in their teens. A great example of the former is the delightful A Kiss Before Christmas. Brooke Shields is pushing 60, and she looks it. I mean that as a compliment. She has aged naturally and is beautiful.  She would look even better if she would lose the long brown hair and the bronzer. Cary Elwes is 3 years older and doesn’t look it. If possible he is even more attractive now than he was in his youth.

Brooke plays a romantic novelist who is facing a lot of fan hostility due to her killing off a beloved character in her best-selling romance series. She escapes to Scotland to visit a castle that her grandfather was a servant in. She meets the financially struggling lord of the manor and sparks fly as they must and do. Brooke wants to buy the castle and Cary, the grumpy Lord, is torn between giving up his heritage and taking care of his tenants and the community who rely on him. Brooke divides her time between living there at the Castle on the flimsiest of pretexts and hanging out at the local pub/inn with a charming club of Scottish knitters.

The plot is as uninspired and dull as the scenery and townspeople are charming. Netflix went all out on the casting as well, with Drew Barrymore making a rather hefty cameo, Hamish the dog, and Andi Osho playing the warm and friendly innkeeper. Despite the cast and setting, the acting (except for Hamish) and the production as a whole were no better or worse than a slightly above average Hallmark Christmas movie. There was one strange thing. Smack dab in the middle of the goings-on a couple shows up at the Inn and seems to be poised to be game-changers or flies in the ointment or deus ex machinas. They check in and we never see them again. It was very weird.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2022

Sugar Plum Twist

Or… The Redemption of Ms Kat

The romance was as lame as can be but I loved the message and the character arcs. From the beginning, Ms Kat the head of the ballet company was a very unsympathetic character. Cold, Rigid, harsh, and snooty. Maybe a little bit bigoted. I loved the way she turned around. The actress, Rachel DeBenedet, did a superb job. We hear a little back story of why she blew up at our heroine Natalia. And when she sees that Natalia was not being disloyal with all of the hard work and professionalism, she apologizes sincerely and promotes her. And then she makes the finale perfect on her own initiative reflecting Natalia’s vision and dreams. The good ending, interesting plot, beautiful dance, seldom seen Latino culture well presented rescued this one which did get a little draggy at times.

“Is Miss Kat actually smiling? It’s a Christmas Miracle!”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 9, 2022

The Holiday Fix Up

All Fixed Up

Jana Kramer plays an HGTV type star who is being pushed aside by an up-and-comer whose social media presence is better. She is out of work until the new year and is at loose ends until she is asked by an old friend, Jack, to renovate and rebuild his Inn which was demolished by a tree. He asks her ex, Coop, to work with her to restore the building and save Harbor Fest.

I liked the chemistry between Ryan McPartin, Coop, and Jana Kramer. The conflict in their two styles pushed this along. Jana, used to taking shortcuts and getting the job done as fast as possible for television and not always using the best materials versus Ryan, who was all in for a quality product. His career was based on reclaiming wood and reusing it. He was all about the craft. He wins her over to his way of thinking.

She films the renovation project for social media, and people love the more personal input and especially like Coop and her together. They seem like a good team. Why did Coop dump her to begin with? When the truth comes out Jana gets even angrier with Coop and I can’t say I blame her. Eventually, Jana’s popularity wins over her bosses and they offer her a big opportunity. Coop thinks she was just helping with the renovation to boost her career. Yikes.

Will they ever get this mess straightened out? Not sure I liked the resolution but they seemed happy with it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 13, 2021

A Wedding for Christmas

A Character You Love to Hate-And That’s a Good Thing

Haley is a Wedding Planner extraordinaire in Los Angeles working for an ambitious boss at one of the premier event planners in the city. She works hard and constantly. She has a boyfriend but on their dates, they both spend most of their time on their phones handling business. When her sister decides she wants to get married at their Grandpa’s Christmas Tree farm out in the boonies instead of Fiji, she asks her sister to be her wedding planner.

Haley goes to the small town to secure the venue of the farm which has since been sold to her childhood friend. Despite insulting him and his way of life, he agrees because her sister used to be his best friend. She turns her nose up at using the local caterer, baker, and florist in favor of her hoity-toity vendors who will come running at the snap of her fingers. Nope. They all turn her down due to the short notice and the holiday and it’s out in the sticks. She is forced to go back to the local hicks all of whom she has managed to insult and alienate with her snooty ways.

This girl is a real snot.

But Hey, this is all about Haley’s mellowing from snobby city-girl to being nice and appreciating the charm of small-town life. The character is well written and her character arc seems authentic and believable. It was a pleasure to see her learn her lessons and turn into a decent human being. Unfortunately, the actress was not very good and didn’t do her character justice. And the actor who played her city boyfriend was worse. It was a thankless role, but he was no better than a cardboard cut-out. Her boss was ably played by Vivica A. Fox, the hardest working actress on TV, who was demanding and unreasonable as most Hallmark-type bosses are. Why do Hallmarkian bosses treat their best most valuable employees so mean? Everyone, including the love interest, was excellent as well, especially the sister, who was a darling.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 2, 2022

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses

Promising Start and Some Good Scenes but Didn’t Like the Romance.

Jill Wagner plays a hardworking single Mom who wants to get back to Interior Designing but is afraid to leave her stable job as a programming director at an assisted living facility. Donna Mills encourages her to apply for a primo job with her big-shot son redecorating and re-purposing their old unused mansion for office space and a Christmas gala. Donna who was pushing 80 when this was filmed in 2019 looks absolutely gorgeous.

The setup for this is good as Donna’s son is cold, “imperious,” and has no sense of humor, and his V.P. and trusted advisor, Kate, is a cold bitch. They both make it crispy clear they are not impressed by her qualifications or demeanor. And I can’t say that I blame them. For while we like Abby who is warm, enthusiastic, and charming, her qualifications were not the best, and she misspoke during the interview. When they haughtily dismiss her, she has a meltdown and acted like the “interview” was just a formality and she was guaranteed the job. She yells at them and storms out of the room. Very entitled and unprofessional. She’s hired because she has “spunk”.

Jill remains as charming and likable as ever while trying and succeeding in jollying up the Scroogey Nick. He slowly but surely warms up to her, her son, and her ideas (which are diametrically opposed to Kate’s who keeps getting meaner and meaner). His character arc takes up a large chunk of the movie and they start to give each other smoldering looks. Meanwhile, Abby meets a nice doctor who loves kids and whom we like as well. It is a measure of Jill Wagner’s appeal that she remains likable while stringing the nice doctor along while being attracted to Nick and behaving very unprofessionally at times.  Nick keeps following her around like a puppy dog and even at one point stalks her while she is on a date with the doctor and actually horning in on it with scary Kate at his side. It is very awkward and painful to watch.

He loses an important client because he is neglecting his business and I actually started sympathizing with Kate and her frustration. He gives a nice speech to Abby about why his business needs his full attention. Abby’s work on the mansion is a triumph and the writers now decide to rehabilitate Kate instead of punishing her for being so mean to Abby. She acknowledges Abby’s good work and admits she was wrong. A.) They need her to give the good doctor some romantic closure as he is left twisting in the wind by our heroine which is not a good look. B.) They need her to take on the bulk of Nick’s business responsibilities so he can have more of a work/life balance with Abby. So she gets a promotion.

This one ultimately did not fly for me despite Jill Wagner’s appeal. I could never warm up to Nick, especially due to the worthy competition of the sexy and nice doctor. She had more in common with him and it seemed like it was just physical attraction between Abby and Nick. Also, I just couldn’t get quite forget that the actor who played him was that blockhead Warner from Legally Blonde.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 21, 2021

Merry Liddle Christmas Baby

Family Scenes but No Real Story

It’s safe to say, I just did not get this movie. But I preface this by saying this third in the trilogy is the first one I have watched. In doing some research, apparently in the first of the movies, the Liddle family is fairly dysfunctional and super annoying. In the second, they lose their maniacal tendencies but retain their penchant for stirring up chaos.

In “Baby”, everyone is super chill, even Jacquie who apparently used to be a real control freak. She is pregnant with a very big round baby and is on the couch with her husband and hoping for a peaceful Christmas (for a change.) Her family descends, but they are nice and normal! They are gorgeous and handsome with great clothes. Jacquie’s house is beautiful if a little sterile. The kids were happy and spirited but well-behaved. I was confused by who everyone was and who all those children belonged to. I got the 3 sisters. And I got that Jacquie was marrying a man with two kids. Where is their mother? Is she dead?

It didn’t seem to have much of a plot. The second sister, Treena, played by Latonya Williams, who I have really liked in other productions especially A Glenbrooke Christmas, and her husband are about ready to adopt a baby boy. I think one of those kids may be theirs as well. The younger sister discovers she is pregnant and is struggling to tell her boyfriend. Meanwhile, he is struggling to propose to her. I think she has a child too. The best scene in the movie was when he was trying to propose while she almost throws up on him. Luckily he manages to propose to her before she tells him she is pregnant so we don’t have to go into all that “He only wants to marry me because I’m pregnant” scenario.

There is no real focus to the movie. We are just plopped down in the middle of this rich, nice, beautiful family and we just soak all the perfection in. There are some blips: The kids trying to get a reclusive neighbor to come out of his house, The family matriarch is stuck in Utah by an avalanche (while on a ski trip-of course), and the adoption is falling through. But it’s all unconnected. There is also a Christmas miracle at the end involving Jacquie’s pregnancy and it is as much a miracle as a Virgin Birth would have been. So that was Christmassy. I think I am really interested in seeing the first and second in this trilogy, but probably not The Liddle Family Christmas Vacation, if there is one.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 30, 2021

Joy for Christmas

The Mystery of the Lost Plot. Or Was it Kidnapped?

This movie began by ticking me off. Cindy Busby plays a publicist whose boss screws up a booking with their client leading to great embarrassment for her. Then he turns around and throws her under the bus when it was his fault. And apparently, it is not the first time. Now, most “Hallmark” heroines would suck it up and take one for the team, but not Cindy. She ups and quits on the spot! Her boss is horrified because she is his star employee. So as quickly as it made me angry, it immediately redeemed itself.

At a loss as to her next career move, the family business beckons. Her sister is a top executive with the family firm and she tells her that they need her desperately. All of the money meant to fund their big charity of the year has been swindled. Cindy left the firm after her father, under the apparent influence of his second wife and her son, had gotten away from the charity, community and people-focused ethos begun by her dead mother and is now solely focused on profits. So it’s the two sisters, “the Silver Belles” against the rest of the family. This is shaping up nicely into an interesting story involving more than a hint of family skullduggery with a dose of wicked stepmother and an equally wicked half-brother. And maybe even some justice served, groveling, and redemption on the horizon.

To save the charitable event she recruits a fellow victim of the charity swindler, Sam Page, a famous ex-baseball player. It isn’t easy because he eschews social events and is a famous scrooge. It seems like a high cost and low probability of benefit scheme, and it’s boring. But with only the support of her sister, she finally succeeds in getting his help. Romance proceeds but they fail in attracting enough donations to benefit the needy children. And disappointingly for the intrigue and plot, the stepmother turns nice and helpful all of a sudden.

Cindy and Sam have fallen in love and shared intimate confidences. At the end of the failed event her still wicked stepbrother spitefully twists her words about Sam to him which results in hurt, confusion, and a breakup.

Ok, it’s all shaping up as usual and I was all set for the misunderstanding to be cleared up, the charity saved at the last minute, and best of all for the bad stepbrother to get his comeuppance. Then the story just falls apart at the seams. I don’t know what happened but either the writers either lost the plot or the powers that be in charge of family values at GAC tampered with the script. Without warning or explanation, the stepbrother’s firmly established conniving bad guy persona gets abandoned and he’s suddenly all about goodness, family values, rainbows, and unicorns. The charity and the romance are rescued in a non-related plot development and the bad guy is as happy as the rest of the family. It was downright insulting. So this was an 8, got demoted to a 6 or 7 during the middle, and ended up a 1. I’ll be nice and up it to a 3 out of respect for Cindy Busby and Sam Page who were great together.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

December 29, 2021

‘Tis the Season to be Merry

“I Just Want Someone to Tell Me Not to go”

I loved Rachel Leigh Cook and Travis Van Winkle in this. They really did have excellent chemistry. The script is witty and intelligent and the acting by all concerned was top notch as well. Merry is a social media influencer with over 3 million followers who specializes in relationships. She is about to publish her first book using her relationship with her fiancé Dale as proof that her rules for a successful relationship really work. Unfortunately, her fiancé does not exist. She just daydreamed him up. She tries to break the news to her publisher, Sonia, but keeps getting interrupted. She decides to accompany her best friend and editor, Darlene, to Vermont to escape awkward questions and figure out what to do.

Merry is concerned that Darlene’s brother Adam might be there, but Darlene reassures her. He does good works for people in third world countries but he is not a missionary. We get no details as to why the concern but assume there was some kind of flirtation or relationship that didn’t go well. Well, Adam does show up and shows up in her bed, which results in a nice bit of physical comedy. Merry gets involved with all of the holiday activities which throw her and Adam together. Meanwhile, Darlene really likes a local boy, James, who seems to really like Merry. Oops. Meanwhile, Sonia finds out Dale does not exist and comes to Vermont after her. Merry has to rewrite her book and come up with the outline by Christmas. Sonia’s a tough cookie, but we see another side of her when she meets the local boy’s father, a fellow Clemson graduate(!) So we have 3 romances going. There is a side story about Adam and Darlene’s parents selling their land and business which had been in the family for 3 generations. Adam has actually come home to settle down at last and is full of plans for the family business that he expects to take over after his parents retire. They didn’t think it necessary to give the kids a heads up pretty much yanking the rug out from under them. Darlene doesn’t care, but Adam is hurt and angry and he pulls no punches with his parents. I love that he didn’t just put on a brave and noble face. They deserve to feel bad. Honestly, I kind of hated them. Of course, they have a right to sell, but without even letting their kids know what their plans were? It had been handed down through 3 generations!

Well, Merry finds her inspiration from her romance with Adam (There are No Rules to a Successful Relationship-must be a short book). She rushes her outline to Sonia at the Airport where she sees Adam, leaving for Asia, since there is nothing for him anymore in Vermont. She yells at him “Don’t Go!” and he doesn’t-The End.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 27, 2021

The Christmas Ball

“May Your Feet always Bring You to Where your Heart isand Nevermind Your Commitments and Responsibilities

I enjoyed most of this for a couple of reasons. First of all Nick Hendrix from Midsomer Murders played the love interest! How awesome is that?! Second, I liked the Historic Englishness of it, particularly bringing in the old-timey waltz and the quadrille which harkens to Georgette Heyer which I always enjoy, and other historical romances which I sometimes enjoy.

It is “suggested” to a respected ballerina, Clare, who is unfortunately past her prime that she retire from professional dancing and take up teaching or some other adjunct to the ballet business. She is not quite ready to hang up her toe shoes and has to ponder this momentous and devastating change of direction. So she accepts her Aunt Bridget’s invitation to holiday in England. Her aunt has an ulterior motive. She and her history professor friend (Nick) are trying to get her home on the national register of historic buildings. To that end, they put on a Christmas Ball to woo the commission.

Her aunt also wants her to stay in England and take over her dance studio and things are looking promising in the love department as well. Nick almost kisses her under the mistletoe. “Don’t look at me with that tone of voice!” And Aunt Bridget has a promise of romance as well with Richard Lintern who I am familiar with due to his appearances in many British mystery and crime shows.

Clare has choreographed the ball and recruited and taught the volunteers who will demonstrate the dances. All is looking good when she gets a call from her ballet company in Boston. In an amazing stroke of luck, 2 ballerinas are hobbled and Clare is the only one who can fill in to dance the Nutcracker! She very wisely takes advantage of their desperation by negotiating a very sweet deal that will revitalize her career and ensure her future.  She leaves England before the Christmas Ball to save the Nutcracker in Boston and I don’t blame her. Good decision. This is her dream and she is set up for life as well. Everyone is a little miffed even though they are pretty much set to go without Clare, but Nick steps up and defends her like a hero. Alas, Clare’s choice is not an acceptable one in a Christmas movie. She changes her mind again and flounces back to England in time for the Christmas Ball, leaving her ballet company and the Nutcracker and all of the poor people who bought tickets in the lurch. I thought this was a very dirty trick. Not cool at all. So she was kinda wrong to leave her Aunt and the ball, even though I don’t blame her, but she was really wrong to leave Boston. But all that is not addressed. Clare gets her kiss at the Christmas ball and presumably stays in England for the easy life. The end brought it down a notch.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 27, 2021

A Bride for Christmas

Great Cast

I recorded this on a whim when I looked at the cast and vaguely remembered that it was pretty good. Sometimes I just don’t have what it takes to invest in a recent premiere movie that I haven’t seen yet. I just read what I wrote there. That is a sad commentary right there. Usually, I look at these re-dos in bed when I wake up in the middle of the night or the last thing before I try to fall asleep.

The plot was entirely predictable of course. The appeal lay in the cast of  Arielle Kebble, Andrew Walker, and Kimberley Sustad in particular. Arielle Kebble is one of the better early Hallmark actresses. Her movies for Hallmark are as memorable as they are few and far between. She is particularly good in those that emphasize lighter comedy rather than earnest heart-tuggery. Although don’t count her out when the story calls for heartbreak, however temporary (as this one does). Our heroine is a runaway bride who we meet Just as she is about to go down the aisle to wed door #3. We know trouble is on the horizon in the dressing room when she asks her mother how she knew her Dad was “the one.” But she walks down the aisle with a big smile. Arielle is very funny as her smile turns from happy and excited then stiff and then a bit panicked as she keeps walking past the wedding party and out the side door without a pause. Andrew Walker does his usual thing (which is a very good thing) as the commitment-phobe who bets his buddies he can get get a woman to accept his marriage proposal by Christmas. It was a little unclear what this was meant to prove. He settles on Arielle.

This is classic romantic comedy material as the “player” courts the gun-shy reluctant jilt and they fall in love for real. Kimberly Sustad, who was only 22 when this movie was made, practically a baby by current Hallmark standards, plays Arielle’s sister and turns a nothing part into one in which she almost steals every scene. I also want to single out Sage Brocklebank as Mike, the jilted bridegroom who is a creepy looming presence as he hopes to win Arielle back and sees her and Andrew falling for each other. He manages to elicit pity for his heartbreak and uneasiness as to what menace he is capable of.

I gave this a ‘7″ initially, but by today’s standards it is a solid “8.” Terrible promotional poster by the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 26, 2021