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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

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 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

Fit for a Prince

So Bad It’s Almost Good. No, Not Really, It’s Just Bad.

Cindy Cordella is a seamstress at premier dress designer Rebecca’s dress shop. Little does anyone know that it is Cindy the Drudge who is doing all of the dress designing without proper recognition. Rebecca’s shop is hired to do the dresses for the wedding of the year that Prince Ronan is expected to attend. Cindy hopes that if she does a good job her loyalty will be rewarded. Prince Ronan visits the shop, meets Cindy, and they hit it off much to the displeasure of two jealous females. Does this sound familiar?

I guess someone there at Hallmark supposes that the narrow-chested, delicate, bland looks of the actor who played Prince Ronan convey an aristocratic aura because this is the second time he has played a prince. To me, he is miscast as a romantic lead unless it is in a romantic dark-horse underdog role. The testosterone is low in this one. And I don’t always prefer a Steve Bacic or a Ben Ayers, Kris Polaha, or Antonio Cupo. I also like sweet and funny types like Luke Macfarlane and Paul Campbell.

Now on to Natalie Hall. Apparently, Hallmark has decided that she is the go-to female lead when youth and prettiness are required. And when I say youth, I mean closer to 30 than 40 or 45. Unfortunately, she has little else to offer. She’s not bad but nothing to be especially worthy of scoring 6 Hallmark lead roles in 2 years. The usual Hallmark work-horses had better watch their backs even though most of them have more acting talent, charm, appeal, and charisma despite their age.

Others have pointed out many of the ridiculous plot points that abound in this disaster. Tip: Don’t eat greasy pizza while handling your dress materials. Tip: don’t roll your rack of dresses anywhere near a chocolate fountain. But their ballroom dance at the end was my pick for “most cringe-worthy scene.” It looked like a losing effort on Dancing with the Stars. I thought it couldn’t get worse until she broke into a solo routine that would have embarrassed famous bad dancer Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. I thought at one point she was going to drop to the floor and twirl around on her butt. The worst thing in the whole mess was the lack of resolution to the mismatch of how a King was going to unite with an ambitious workaholic partner in a global corporation. It’s scary to think this one might need a sequel.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

March 9, 2021

It Was Always You

Good Hair!

Elizabeth is engaged to a fellow dentist, safe boring George, a childhood friend. They go to their old island neighborhood to throw a party for George’s mother and to prepare for their upcoming wedding. George’s brother David with whom she has had a stormy relationship with is also there. When George is stranded on the mainland, Elizabeth and David are thrown together planning the party.

I did not like the relationship between Tyler Hynes (David) and Erin Krakow who played Elizabeth. Tyler Hynes was his usual rough around the edges attractive self. I really usually like him. But his character in this one was irritating. He was out of line about things that were none of his business. The whole relationship bordered on the inappropriate and stalkerish. She was engaged to his brother and he needed to lay off and leave her alone.

And why did the fiance brother not just get a boat over to the island when the bridge was under repair? Ridiculous.

I disagree with the apparent majority opinion about Erin’s hair. I liked the different cut from the way her fans are used to seeing her on When Calls the Heart, which I’ve never seen, (with the inauthentic modern flowing locks in 19th century Canada). It gave her an edge that improved her usual placidly wholesome look.

I did like the end. I’m a real fan of the “One year later” endings. I like that Erin followed her dreams of travel. Tyler’s childhood note to Erin was really sweet and romantic. And I liked that the stick-in-the-mud brother had finally loosened up with the right woman.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

March 2, 2021

Where Your Heart Belongs

Dreadful

This was dreadful. Jen Lilley seems doomed lately to playing contemptible characters. And contemptible characters that are written poorly. Mackenzie is a top marketing executive in New York City who is losing her clients to a shiny new rival. She is stressed out about that when her best friend moves her wedding up and needs her help to pull it off in their old hometown. She hasn’t been home since her mother died and did I hear right that it’s been 10 years? Her father has health problems and his maple syrup business is failing because he stubbornly refuses to modernize despite the financial support and advice of his “employee”, Mackenzie’s old boyfriend played by Christopher Russell. It doesn’t help that the trees he is tapping are not Maple trees.

Her friend wants a simple hometown inexpensive wedding because that is the kind of down-to-earth person she is. Mackenzie basically hijacks her wedding to promote herself to her rapidly departing clientele. The kicker is that she knows she is doing wrong, but just continues to do it. Her actions are contemptible but Jen Lilley plays it with a sugar coating that only makes her seem like the ultimate phony. She uses her friend’s easygoing nature to run roughshod over her while being on the phone almost constantly to her New York assistant talking about her career problems. She browbeats the bride into going with an ugly over-the-top designer dress instead of the flattering simple gown she loves and gets the lovely little country church trashed by the famous D. J. she hires and his followers who also deface a tree that has a sentimental history to the bride and groom.

Meanwhile, even though she finds out her father’s farm is in foreclosure, she makes no attempt to help or find out what’s going on. She is just too busy and important unless she is flirting with Christopher. Near the end, she goes to the banker/lawyer who tells her that Christopher actually has her father’s power of attorney. That finally gets her attention and she somehow concludes that CR is trying to steal her father’s business when he was really financing it to save it. She pouts and sulks when she isn’t looking panic-stricken and is just generally an A-#1 jerk to lovely Christopher as well as everyone else. But does she try communication? Heck, no. In fact, when Christopher tries to set her straight, “she doesn’t have time” to hear it. No idea why her career is on a death spiral. I don’t mind a character who starts out very flawed but has a character arc over time. Jen Lilley is horrid throughout the whole movie until she ruins everything and she has nowhere to go but up.

To make it all worse, Jen Lilley delivers many of her lines so quickly and incoherently it’s like she wants to get them over with instead of actually acting. She has no connection whatsoever with Christopher Russell. The fact that he, her father, and her friends put up with her throughout the whole movie just made this viewing experience even more unpleasant. The only one who finally stands up to her is the bride. Nelson Wong, (for once not named “Kenny”) who usually is a charming presence in any movie, is annoying and horrible in this, and the ending and resolution made no sense whatsoever. This production is populated with many regular Hallmark supporting players but even they cannot prop this one up.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

January 2, 2022

Two for the Win

Nicely Done

Trevor Donovan plays a world champion skier who has been injured and struggling to return to form. His coach does not think he is ready yet, so he goes back home to the ski lodge his parents own. there he meets old friend Kayla who has dreams of becoming a premier coach and who is willing to coach him for the Winter Classic. It’s a win-win!

This sounds a little boring but excellent acting, a good script, and perfect casting make this well worth watching. I loved Kayla played by Charlotte Sullivan. She had the beauty queen look, which I usually don’t like, but her personality and acting rose above it. Trevor Donovan is not usually a fave but as a jock, he is perfectly cast. Hallmark went out of their box with the big smooch a little over halfway through instead of the last minute. They declared their love for each other with 45 minutes to go. There was no misunderstanding to be cleared up in the 4th act. The girl was upfront about pursuing her dream and leaving him and he was supportive. It all worked out, of course with her doing that and a happy love-ending. Well done Hallmark. Please keep listening to your loyal viewers by continuing to break out of the tired formula. Also great ski scenes and scenery.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 17, 2021

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. 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

‘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