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

A Christmas Solo

Wow!

This one really took me by surprise. For a Christmas movie, it was really different. A lovely and sweet teenager moves to town and gets on the wrong side of a mean girl by winning the Christmas solo that mean girl thought she was entitled to. Meanwhile sweet and lovely girl’s mother and mean girl’s Dad (who is also very nice and very attractive) are falling in love. The mean girl is mean partially because her Mother was cheating on her Dad and left her to be with her boyfriend. This movie was full of tension and the mean girl goes way over the top, ending up vandalizing her rival’s house! That brings things to a head. The ending is almost too heartwarming.

The main problem I had with this movie was how quickly and easily the mean girl, Melissa, did a 180. In reality, she would have been signed up for years of therapy and a selection of some very powerful drugs. The other thing was the casting of the nice Mom. The actress seemed too old for Jonathan Scarfe who played the nice but overwhelmed Dad. And although Kelli Williams is attractive enough, it was not a good match. Ending on a complimentary note, despite the tension and almost horror of the situation, the script was full of witty banter and had some humor. I also liked that Charlotte, the nice girl, had friends who had her back, and even one of Melissa’s posse repented and went over to Charlotte’s side.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 18, 2020

Christmas in Evergreen: Bells are Ringing

One Actress Makes this Watchable

This was enjoyable due entirely to Rukiya Bernard. I’m pretty sure that this is the first Hallmark that she has been the principal character, although even in this one, there was an abundance of supporting players. There were also a lot of stories. But like I said. Rukiya Bernard. I have been a fan of hers ever since I first saw her in One Winter Weekend. I love her energy: she has charisma to spare.

The multiple plots were not that interesting. Holly Robinson Peete’s fiancé gets snowed in and can’t make it back to Evergreen in time for his wedding or worse, Christmas. The actor might have been busy and couldn’t make it to the set, but we did see him on Zoom. Peete’s sister arrives for the wedding that is not to be along with her father. Sister is mad at Dad and cold to his nice new girlfriend. Rukiya’s story is that Elliot, her boyfriend, is opening a branch of their store in Boston and they will be separated. He didn’t check with her first. The other story is that she is now the head of the Evergreen museum but the eccentric Cooper Twins’ brother never signed off on using the building which puts the kibosh on the museum. He was horrible and mean. Rukiya did absolutely everything to get his cooperation but to no avail. How anyone could resist her charm let alone be so mean to her, I just did not understand. His inevitable epiphany was very weakly supported. He saw a video of his twin sisters saying the same thing Rukiya (and they) had been telling him in person throughout the movie. His change of mind made no sense.

So the whole thing was weak, but I enjoyed you know who.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

November 5, 2021

A Cookie Cutter Christmas

Watch this for One Hilarious Scene

There is one scene in this movie that makes it worth watching despite its problems. Or better yet, when it comes up again on TV, fast forward to around the last 45 minutes.

Two elementary school teachers have been engaged in a rivalry since childhood when one horned in on the other’s song solo. Whatever one does, the other one has to better it. Each cannot stand the other to be in the spotlight. It’s fairly harmless until a handsome widower with a daughter comes to town. The story is mostly told through Erin Krakow’s character, so we know that she is the one we are supposed to root for with the actress’s trademark sweet, gentle, and sincere demeanor. Despite her questionable behavior throughout, we know she is a good person at heart. Her rival is effectively played by Miranda Frigon best known for playing the grumpy police chief in the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries.

Skipping to the scene in question. Miranda has invited all of the festival (there’s a festival) volunteers to a party at her home and is forced to invite Erin (“Your invitation will be shoved in your In-box”) Miranda is very proud of her singing ability and announces that she is going to favor the group with her solo rendition of Silent Night, snagging the handsome widower to accompany her on the piano. She has no shame, but as soon as she starts singing Erin starts sneaking up to her side as if she is under the Confundus charm and joins in. I’m like, “Oh no she is not going to….” But she did! Silent Night gets louder and louder as the two try to drown each other out, to the total befuddlement of all the guests, and the horror of Erin’s mother. When they get to the last line “When Chri-ist was born”, “Christ” comes out so loudly and aggressively as each of them vies for supremacy, that it’s almost sacrilegious. Then Miranda ends with a pose like she is the Madonna cradling Baby Jesus in her arms. It is the most irreverent and intentionally funniest performance I have ever seen in a Hallmark movie.

It provides the turning point in Erin’s journey. She walks out of the party with her deer-in-the-headlights look thoroughly shocked at her own behavior. She has finally gone too far. After some skullduggery on Miranda’s part to get through, the two former friends make up, and Erin gets her man.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

November 5, 2021

Beaus of Holly

Two Wrongs and a Right

Holly, a rather unlikeable young lady, decides to propose to her unattractive and also unlikeable boyfriend of two years in order to maintain the schedule she has for her life and career. Instead of jumping at the chance to wed her, he says he has to think about it. In fact, he is going to spend the holidays with the more spontaneous “Tiffany.” She is hurt and upset and they mutually dump each other. She is thrown into the company of Jake, a very likable, nice, and strangely attractive tour guide. He takes her on a long sleigh-ride and a lot of other Hallmarky activities occur. In due time, Holly learns to pay more attention to her heart rather than her day planner. Then the ex-boyfriend shows up again (as they do). My ultimate take after this long slow slog is that the two unlikable ones should have got back together and left the nice cute guy alone to follow his bliss.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 14, 2020

The Christmas Promise

What About the Leftovers?

This was a straightforward story of a young woman struggling to recover from the shock and grief of her fiancé getting killed during Christmas a year ago. She is provided tons of support and counsel by her “squad” of good friends and her father, ably played by Patrick Duffy. But it’s not until she becomes friends with the carpenter whom she hired to finish up her and her fiancé’s remodel of their old house that she begins to move forward. Also, in a nod to You’ve Got Mail and its predecessors, she pours out her heart one night via text message to her fiancé’s old cell phone # and she gets an answer. No, it’s not his ghost. This is not “Tales from the Crypt.”

There were some definite redeeming features in this show as well as some lazy writing that detracted from my enjoyment. First the positive. In a break with their usual policy of not showing dead former true loves (wouldn’t want anyone to get depressed during a Christmas movie) the doomed fiancé had a considerable role in this show. I liked this mature decision on the part of Hallmark, and they got a Hallmark familiar face (Giles Patton) to play him. I liked that Torrey DeVitto did not play the brave but po-faced grieving girlfriend. She was pretty cheerful and upbeat throughout. Although this might have been because of her lack of range, rather than a conscious creative choice. The carpenter/love interest was sexy and nice when he stopped coming across like a stalker. That awkward scene when he was in the Toy Store goofing around with the costumes trying to make Torrey laugh was just jaw-dropping. But he recovered. There is an adorable kissing scene towards the end which is one of the cutest and most surprising kisses I’ve ever seen on a Hallmark. Her friends and sister were loving but sometimes obnoxious, insensitive, and awkward in the face of the tragedy. I liked that. Just like real friends.

Now for the bad. Mostly, Torrey DeVitto had little to do in this acting-wise. But at the beginning, her reaction to the tragic and shocking news of her fiancé’s death was more like how someone would react to stepping on something disgusting. They mercifully cut the scene short and went right into “One Year Later.” Perhaps with another actress, they would have made a different choice. As part of her healing process, she goes to a field to decorate a lone Christmas Tree which is at least 50 ft. Tall. (Not like on the poster.) She puts a few ornaments on at a time. By the end, we have a scene showing the huge tree fully decorated with huge ornaments. How did she do that? Did she hire a crew and a cherry picker? Also, her sister has been cooking casseroles all year for her and Torrey has dozens of casseroles in the freezer. It’s kind of a running joke. One night, carpenter guy comes over, and she cooks them all at once! They’re sitting at the table with about 10 casseroles on it, and dipping into all of them! First, It must have taken her hours to cook all those. “Oh, you must try the Broccoli and Cheese-It’s delicious!” It made no sense. I was so concerned with what they were going to do with all those leftovers, it just took me right out of the movie.

Now, these were scenes that were not necessary to the plot or character development. You can just laugh and shake your head. But they show just slap-dash bad writing, directing, or editing and a lack of respect for your audience. So, a mix of the pretty good with the pretty stupid, but not enough good to entirely ignore the silly stuff.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

November 3, 2021 (My birthday!)

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

A Glenbrooke Christmas

Autumn and Latonya Shine in This. More Latonya, Please.

This was an adequately entertaining Hallmark, and as such, I was a little disappointed because I really expect the best from Autumn Reeser. Also, Antonio Cupo looked super hot and perfectly cast as the fire chief she falls for. I also like the poor little rich girl trope as well. Autumn plays Jessica, a powerful and wealthy businesswoman who is soon to completely takeover her Grandfather’s real estate company. Before her life gets even more consumed, she decides to visit the small town of Glenbrooke, a place that her beloved late parents held dear. She hides her position and wealth so she will be treated like a normal person. As she settles in, she learns the famous Glenbrooke Church Bells are broken and the town can’t afford to fix them. Of course, the needed $10,000 is chump change to her, but she doesn’t want to reveal her wealth. Especially since Antonio Cupo hates rich people.

First of all, Mr. Fire Chief got off to a bad start with me by yelling at nice Autumn for something that was totally his fault. He jay-walked out in front of her car without looking and blamed her for not paying attention! Grrrrrrrrrr. He was sexist and entitled as Mr. Small Town VIP. He got better, then reverted to type again near the end, where he accused Autumn of the same bad behavior he was guilty of. Latonya Williams was adorable as Ruthie, another firefighter, who tells Antonio a few home truths at the end. Overall it was good, although not problem-free, in addition to Mr. Fire Chief’s character flaws.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 14, 2020

Snowed Inn Christmas

Sooooooooo Good!

With Bethany Joy Lenz and Andrew Walker taking the lead, how can it not be at least good? The popular duo play 2 journalist colleagues sent to Aspen to compete for top spot at their magazine. They both are “off” Christmas. Andrew, because he can’t bear to go home to his lovely family since his Dad died. Bethany, because her boyfriend just dumped her after looking forward to spending it with him and his family. They get stranded in Santa Claus, Indiana, at a B & B run by Mr. And Mrs. Winter with both trying to find a Christmas story there that will save their jobs. Rivalry leads to mutual appreciation, liking, then love, even though they are so different from each other.

Andrew’s character seems a little sneaky at first. But when he finds out Bethany was an unadopted orphan who made up her happy Christmas tradition stories, he takes her to his nearby home so she can have the family Christmas she has always dreamed of. It was sweet and touching and embodied the true spirit of Christmas.

Bethany realizes right away that there is something magical and mysterious going on with the B & B and the Winters. The fantasy is handled with wonder and without silliness thanks to Belinda Montgomery and John B. Lowe who play the couple and the excellent script. When she finds a photograph of the Winters dated 1842…Well. I will say no more, but she knows she has her story. If only she can find a certificate designating the Inn as a property of historical significance that will prevent its demolition. Yes, there is that going on as well.

The only quibble I had was when bad boyfriend showed up, she took way too long to dump him. The actors all shine in this one, with a special shout-out to Tasha Scott, a former Tyler Perry stand-out, who made the small part of their boss entertaining and special. The last short scene with “The Winters” is worth an extra star all by itself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 22, 2020

A Sugar & Spice Holiday

A Breath of Fresh Air

This was off the charts good. Everything came together. The two leads had great chemistry and were very cute in their own right. The writing had some depth in that although there were some Asian stereotypes, each character was well developed. It had both comedy and wit. For example, the Chinese father from Maine had a southern accent because he learned his English from Johnny Cash records. LOLWUT?! There were some clever and amusing extra touches and some straight-up comedy thrown in for good measure. I loved that when each new character was introduced, Suzy, our heroine would picture a bakery item that matched their personality and a graphic would appear over their heads.

The bones of the plot followed a usual Hallmark template: Successful hometown girl returns to her small town and has to save something while working on a project that will make or break their career. In addition to the humor and romance, there was a lot of tension and suspense, both on the gingerbread making front and on Suzy’s career front. But the writer and director switched it up and went against the usual clichés in a number of places, especially with Suzy’s future career path. It had plenty of heartwarming moments, and some good life lessons. The romance was sweet and even touching. I loved it. It’s in my top 3 this year and top 10 all time. Don’t miss it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 14, 2020