Rip in Time

Hall of Fame Worthy-It’s About Time!

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

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

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

“Are You a Witch?!”

“She was, last Halloween.”

“Please do not shoot me, Witch!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 24, 2022

Romance to the Rescue

It’s All about the Dog

The human cast was OK but the dog stole every scene. He was adorable and hilarious. What an actor! Hallmark better get “Nova” locked down with an ironclad contract before GAC comes a-callin’. Just saying.

Andrea Brooks plays Kyra, a young and ambitious marketing person who works in a pet store. In order to impress her new boss, who she is also crushing on, she lies about having a dog. In order to cover her tracks, she goes to a local rescue organization to adopt a dog. The owner (Marcus Rosner-Kevin) is very picky about who rescues his dogs. She has to lie to him about her qualifications in order to fulfill his strict requirements. She really had to jump through a lot of hoops. Believe me when I tell you that Nova, who plays Sam, the dog, was absolutely pure liquid joy.

On a home visit(!) to Kyra’s house, to make absolutely sure Sam and Kyra are doing OK, it is obvious to Kevin that she doesn’t know what the hell she is doing as far as discipline and training are concerned. Sam has trashed her house in 10 seconds flat. Kyra goes through an amusing montage of prospective dog trainers. They range from militaristic to a holistic new-age approach, and none are a good match for the dynamo that is Sam.  Kevin ends up with the job and the rest is history.

Andrea Brooks was energetic, perky, and cute. I liked her, but I can see that a little of her could go a long way. After many many secondary roles in the Hallmark factory, she deserves the promotion to head girl. Marcus Rossner was fine, but I felt he was a little miscast. I feel like the part was written for a nerdy underdog type (no pun intended), and Marcus is anything but. But he carried it off.

Anyway, this was a perfectly serviceable Hallmark as far as plot and character, but OMG, that dog!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 23, 2022

Road Trip Romance

Not Dreadful, but Very Very Average

Which is almost worse than dreadful.

I’m getting to be able to judge if I am going to like a Hallmark( 8, 9, or 10 stars) by the amount and application of make-up the head girl is wearing. Natalie Hall’s foundation and eyelashes were thick and ever-present, therefore I didn’t like this one. As unflattering and aging as a lot of make-up is, at least it was understandable at the beginning when she was pitching her company to a potential client. It’s not like this was a ranch-girl part. But why the next day, when she was off the clock in a small town or alone in a car with someone she supposedly doesn’t like? I mean, how long does it take to put false eyelashes on?

Natalie meets an ex-high-school rival in the same distant city while they are both competing for the same contract. And their companies sell the exact crazy thing: very niche mechanical party favors. What are the odds? I guess the same as two rivals both being butterfly wranglers for parties and having their parties right next door to each other at the same time. Even though they are both at least in their 30s, they, at least Natalie, are still nursing their petty high-school grudges.

After their business is concluded they both have to fly back to Hometownsville. She for her sister’s wedding, he for his Dad’s retirement barbecue. The flights have all been canceled. Road Trip! Forced propinquity! Hate to Love! That’s all folks!

A couple of highlights: Along the way, their car break-eth down, and they are force-eth to attend-eth a Rennaisance Festival in a small town, sleep-eth in a tent (no s’mores thank God), and deal-eth with a mechanic who won’t fix-eth their car because it’s a Renaissance festival and they didn’t have-eth cars in the Renaissance.  Natalie, the maid of honor, misses all of the festivities and her maid-of-honor duties and almost misses the wedding. The bride’s ”best friend”, who is a dead ringer for Joyce DeWitt of Three’s Company,  is corralled into taking over for Natalie, and she likes it a little too much. When Natalie finally arrives, Joyce tells her the wrong church and leaves her with the wrong dress. Wow.

Natalie seems to be a favorite with many and seems to be the go-to girl when a  young(ish) lead is needed. I am not a fan. I do like Corey Sevier, who plays a bit of a nerd. He has the best line in the movie, “When the real men were huntering and gathering, I always preferred to stay at home and read about it.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

May 20, 2022

Love, Classified

All About Emilia (or Trudy or Jan)

This one started off extremely well. The writing was intelligent, and Melora Hardin (A.k.a. Trudy Monk) delivered her lines with verve and vivacity. It was clear that this was going to be one of the Hallmark 2.0s that the network has been flirting with lately that eschews the usual fill in the template set-pieces and characters. Paul Campbell in a cameo appeared as a bartender who serves to introduce the main character, Emilia, played by Melora. So I was set to enjoy this. We later see an uncredited appearance by Ashley Williams and a welcome cameo by Michael Kevin Anderson. And Steve Bacic is a big favorite of mine as well.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the mother, Emilia’s, past abandonment of her children after the death of her husband. Yes, people make “mistakes”. But a 5-year absence is not a “mistake,” it is a heartless, selfish, cowardly choice. And while I know that health crises do cause people to rethink the importance of family and old ties, I thought it was significant that she didn’t come back to see her children until she felt personally vulnerable. Apparently, when everything was going well, her children were not very high up on the priority list. And as for self-centeredness, her hurt daughter was a chip off the old block. She was very unlikable. I don’t fault her for her feelings towards her mother, but I didn’t like her childish acting out, especially towards her very faultless and innocent love interest, Her mother’s doctor. Her son, on the other hand, handled everything perfectly. He was cautious about his mother’s reappearance in his life but willing to give her a chance. When she (predictably) was set to run away again, he called her out on her propensity to run from trouble and conflict instead of sticking it out. I liked his anger.

As the movie went on, Melora Hardin’s performance started to grate on my nerves more and more. Her over-the-top emoting was just hammy. Her speech at her book signing was just cringe-inducing. The self-involved airing of all of her bad behavior and embracing her children’s successes was not an apology to her children, it was another “all about me” TMI performance. So, what promised to be a more sophisticated (lesbian romance front and center instead of a brief hint in the background) version of family-friendly fare, just fizzled, for me. Stars for the good things about it.**6 out of 10**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 24, 2022

A Royal Runaway Romance

” So You Went and Fell in Love with a Princess.”

A royal on a road trip. What could go wrong? This one was ripe for every cliche in the book being a mash-up of two popular Hallmark tropes. But it was actually pretty good. Yes, we had a festival, S’mores at the fireside, save the Bed-and-Breakfast, and a ranch family reconciliation, but thanks to excellent rapport and chemistry between the two lead characters it was slightly above average for me.

The Princess of Bundleberry? Burberry? (obviously not an eastern or southern European  country because it doesn’t end in “ia”) falls for the Chicago, America artist who is painting her portrait. When he goes back home, she schemes to follow him by visiting her Uncle in California. Once in California, her passport is confiscated (S.O.P. for royals in case they want to fly the coop) and she is forced to drive instead of fly to Chicago where the supremely barely interested artist is having a showing. Meanwhile, she is assigned a bodyguard/watchdog. Her Uncle sympathizes with her predicament and gives her his blessing to follow her heart, as he once did, and hires the reluctant (he’s about to go on vacation) bodyguard to drive her across the American west to Chicago (in a gorgeous vintage Mustang) to see if there is a future with this artist fellow. Of course,  the alert viewer understands that there is no chance of this thanks to many clues.

A couple of things pulled this out of the mire. First, the princess, played by newcomer Philippa Northeast, who started out stiff and boring, really opened up once she started experiencing “typical” American culture. Her enthusiasm and embrace of diners, food, festivals, salt of the earth Americans, and the beautiful expanse of the United States was very endearing. The romance going on between her and the bodyguard was well constructed. In addition to the fun they have along the way, they also have a few serious conversations that contribute to their friendship and understanding. He always maintains his professionalism despite being friendly and nice so there was a slow burn thing going on. There is the anticipation of her reunion with the artist and what’s going to happen. We know he was just casually flirting with her in Buttleberry and he is more involved with his career than with a relationship with her. His cavalier treatment was a stretch since he probably owed his current popularity to painting her portrait, she is beautiful and nice, and he is single. We know he is not gay, because that role is filled by the understanding Uncle. Yet he disses her every step of the way, not even returning her calls.  You gotta kind of admire his chutzpah, actually.

I need not say more about how this all plays out except to say it is a much better ending than Roman Holiday.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 14, 2022

Always Amore

The Recipe Needed a New Twist

This was well-acted by the talented and beautiful Autumn Reeser, as always. She has never disappointed and I approach a Hallmark movie featuring her with optimism. The same goes for Tyler Hynes, who gives a warm and natural performance. He plays a kind of restaurant whisperer hired by the primary investor in Autumn’s restaurant to turn things around.  Kind of like chef Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares but super nice and not swear-y. Unfortunately, this one is the done-to-death “save the restaurant” plotline. Autumn plays a still-grieving widow who is struggling to keep her late husband’s legacy, which is his restaurant, alive.  The problem is that doing that means keeping herself, the restaurant, the menu and recipes, and the staff mired in the past. Case in point, as pointed out incredulously by Tyler, despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, they are still expensively importing their tomatoes from Italy because that’s what her husband did. I sincerely doubt that Italian tomatoes are any better than good ol’ American tomatoes. And so does Tyler, who is exceedingly compassionate and patient despite some very trying hostile attitudes. He finally convinces her that there is no legacy without a functioning restaurant. A restaurant emphasizing love, family, and tradition is all very well, but there is none of that if a profit is not being made. Once that pilot light is turned on, it’s just a matter of convincing the bank to give her a loan to buy out her main investor who is going to sell to a big corporate entity. But the bank is not going to do that until the restaurant shows some signs of life. She has to convince her husband’s protege, himself a brilliant chef, to enter a food competition to generate buzz.  He is reluctant because he perceives that as being disloyal to his mentor. After plenty of annoying waffling, he agrees. And Autumn contributes her awesome baking skills to the effort. But what about when intimidating but beloved Mother-in-law Patty “Bad Seed” McCormack finds out what they are up to? Is she going to be like lovely wise “Nonna”, or scary Rhoda?

Besides the talented cast (including a personal fave, Latonya Williams, as the contest head, and the talented child actor, Erica Tremblay, as Autumn’s daughter) the food photography is gorgeous and the menu items look delicious. Or as they describe in the movie, “glorious, stunning, delectable, genius, a miracle, etc.”. Heavy on the tension and distress, as well as the thesaurus, and light on the wit and humor, the script is the same old retread of the same old “save the business” story and with nothing special to set it apart. Autumn’s recovery from grief and finding her own path and a new love was fine, but it was hardly anything new.

Despite the finest freshest ingredients, if the recipe isn’t good, neither is the dish.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 7, 2022

Just One Kiss

Too bad They’re All Not This Good-but then, It wouldn’t be Hallmark.

I knew this was going to be a 10 out of a 10 in the first 10 minutes. The dialogue was sharp and witty from the get-go. The stars were appealing and didn’t have the usual GQ male model vibe for the male or beauty pageant runway vibe for the female. Upon our first meeting with the striking Mia, an English professor, she is delivering a bitter cynical lecture on romantic poetry. Two students comment on her diatribe: “Professor Rivera needs a date.” …” Or a drink!” The girls make a few more appearances throughout the movie with their astute conclusions on the state of her love life going by the tone of her lecture. Very cute. We learn she is on her way to her lawyer to divorce her too handsome husband. He is 90 days sober but was a lying alcoholic who lost their house. He wants her back. And her tween daughter wants them back together too. She meets cute (a couple of times) with our leading man who is handsome but in a normal guy kind of way instead of looking like he just stepped out of a Vanity Fair ad. He is a lounge singer (now isn’t that an unusual profession for a Hallmark hero!?) and the music is wonderful. He is a bit of a flirt and plays the field but thanks to his conversations with a good friend and bartender we know he is a good guy and a keeper.

Despite her suspicious hostile attitude toward love and romance they bond over a love for old movies and he gradually thaws her icy sarcastic façade. The romance is facilitated by their two mothers who meet in the movie theatre the two frequent and know they would be perfect for each other. “He likes her! And she HATES him!… It’s perfect!”

Despite being wisely advised and cheered on by her best friend and his husband, all does not go smoothly in their enemies to friends to lovers journey. Mostly thanks to her jerk of an ex-husband and the inevitable misunderstanding with 20 minutes to go. I loved the unusual-for-Hallmark creative touches. The authentic New York vibe, the black and white dream sequences, the songs, the Greek chorus-like moms and the two female students, and even the original movie poster (not pictured but you can still see it on IMDb as of this writing)!

There is a cute twist at the end that was telegraphed early and often, and it just added one more unusual touch to the whole wonderful production. The cast of fresh faces have outstanding resumes, including Illeana Douglas. There were a few Hallmark veterans (Matty Finochio, David Ruttle, and Peter Benson in a short cameo.) and to my surprise, this was written by a veteran Hallmark writer. They must have told her to “do the opposite of what you think we want” or something. A movie like this is one of the reasons I doggedly look at almost every Hallmark movie. In addition to the crazily predictable and boring, there’s always a chance they shock with a truly excellent romantic comedy.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 3, 2022

Second Chance at Love

God and Family First.

Gloria Rubin and Eric LaSalle play Brenda and Jack, the divorced parents of happily married Alicia. We learn from Alicia’s voice-over in the beginning that when her family put God and family first, they were happy. But when her two parents started getting too involved in their careers, they grew apart and when she was twelve they divorced and virtually ceased contact with each other.

As the title and the trailers suggest, this is about the parents finding each other once again after many years apart. But it is also about Alicia’s and her husband Arnold’s marriage as well. While at first their marriage seems solid we see fairly quickly that there are subtle cracks. Arnold is way too flattered when a pretty girl smiles at him. Alicia is way too involved in her parents’ lives, to the point that Arnold feels like he is losing his wife and the intimacy of their relationship. The father dates quite a lot, but when things get serious, he breaks up with them. The mother has no interest in dating, insisting she is fulfilled by her career, NOT LONELY, and is happy on her own. Except she is not on her own. Whenever she feels at loose ends, she goes over to Alicia and Arnold’s house or calls Alicia on the phone. Alicia sees what is happening but can’t and won’t distance herself from her mother. She is very conflicted. When she wants time alone with her husband she does not appreciate her mother’s presence. But when her mother does not have time for her, she is not happy with that either. She keeps saying the right things but keeps doing very foolish things, pushing her loving husband to the limit. Brenda finally wakes up to her pattern of behavior thanks to her own mother who leads a very active social life (the wonderful BJ Harrison) and agrees to “get back out there.” Brenda and Jack, using the same dating app, accidentally meet on a blind date with each other.

This is a movie that deals with challenging relationship problems between couples in love and between parents and children. It is about the impact of divorce. Not everything is black and white with easy solutions. There is a lot of conversation and many one step forward, two steps back situations with both couples. Although both couples have their happy endings, it does not come easily until the end when the carefully constructed challenges and problems collapse into a pile of mush. But before that, this is a Hallmark that is very (very) unusual. It is well-written and well-acted.

Criticism of Hallmark reached a crescendo this last Christmas. Great exception was taken by some to ignoring God and religion (Christianity) in Christmas movies. In one movie, the carolers La-la-la-ed their way through a Christmas carol about Jesus, which was, indeed, ridiculous. This sense of betrayal is also all mixed up with Hallmark featuring mixed-race couples and Gay couples. I hope the disaffected take note of this one. Although not preachy at all or overtly religious, it is not shy about the role of the church and the importance of putting God and family first in life. No, it’s not the only way to lead a good fulfilling life or to have a successful happy relationship. But it is one way. And this movie is an affirmation of that path.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 27, 2022

Presence of Love

Coats of Many Colors

In many ways, this one reminded me of some of the gentle English Family-oriented romances written in mid 20th century that are such a comfort and joy to me. Or some of the later stories by a favorite author, Rosamunde Pilcher. A fragile, introverted, and very nice young woman escapes to Cornwall to recover from some trauma. There is usually a granny involved, as well as a young child, a dog, a cottage, a close rural community, and an upstanding but grouchy love interest. This one fit the bill except the love interest was just nice, not grouchy.

This one largely deserves the very positive reviews it has gotten. Eloise Mumford is wonderful in this as the panic attack prone Joss. She is seeking tenure as a professor of English but her paper has been rejected. She is still grieving the death of her mother a year earlier and takes pills to stave off a life-long anxiety problem. Her best friend discloses that Joss’s mother had planned to take her to her childhood home in Cornwall as a surprise for her birthday and insists that Joss go anyway and work on her paper there, which she does. Everything proceeds very predictably as usual, but as Hallmark devotees know, if a Hallmark Romance appears on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries, it is going to go a little deeper than the usual rom-com shenanigans.

Famous British Actress (Downton Abbey, etc., etc.) Samantha Bond plays the mother of Daniel, the owner of the farm/B&B and Joss’s love interest. She is fighting with her son who wants to put Wind Turbines in one of their sheep fields for the sorely needed income. Underneath her polite façade, she is cold, rude and hostile, change-averse, and old-fashioned despite her snazzy sweaters and chic haircut. She was so remote and scary that when she breaks down and kindly helps Joss with her grief, it is genuinely touching. Meanwhile Joss mentors Daniel’s dyslexic daughter. So there is quite a lot going on, including a mysterious woman that may or may not be a ghost or a figment of Joss’s imagination. There is lots of English poetry quoting which was nice. The scenery and photography were beautiful.

The moral of the story is that security and safety are over-rated and sometimes taking chances and living a little is the path to take. Instead of pursuing tenure (security and safety) which was only adding to her stress, she decides to live in the moment and move to Cornwall to be with Farmer Dan and his little family and also travel. We have a “One Year Later” epilogue in which we see she is happily in charge of the literary festival and happy in her relationship with Daniel. Speaking of the epilogue, I was going to refrain from adding to the general criticism of the vast number of coats that Joss crammed in her suitcase to wear in Cornwall. (Blue, Pink, Red, Houndstooth, and a Puffy Jacket.) But when she was sporting still ANOTHER DAMN COAT one year later (Tartan) I couldn’t resist.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 16, 2022

Feeling Butterflies

Confused and Complicated

**Spoilers**

On the surface, this was pretty standard stuff as far as plot and character. But if you look harder, it featured some very awkward elements and a very Strange-for-Hallmark romance. First of all, 2 very contentious and competitive butterfly wranglers not only in the same city, but booking parties right next door to each other? I had no idea that releasing butterflies at parties was such a booming dog-eat-dog business! Our heroine, Emily, hates her rival Mandy because Mandy treats butterfly parties as a business instead of a calling. Plus, she’s cheaper. She does not have a deep personal connection to the insects like Emily does. Emily suspects Mandy of salting her butterfly releases with moths and actually has the gall to also do Puppy and Kitty parties as well. Hopefully, these dog and cat parties don’t involve releasing them into the wild like the butterflies. Better just shrug and move on. This is one of those Hallmark set-ups that you can’t think about too hard.

Emily’s love interest is a single Dad who hires her to give a party for his daughter. The romance is unusual for Hallmark. Emily is very attracted to him but is worried that he is still hung up on his ex. They actually have a pretty lengthy conversation about that issue, and guess what? He actually is! I don’t know why because she is rude, pushy, bossy and they have nothing in common except a 2-year history. He says “It’s complicated.” End of. He thinks. But no. Emily wants the cards on the table and good for her. He admits he really likes Emily but he is very “confused.” He is so “confused” that after thinking about it long and hard, he chooses the ex over Emily and drives off for the airport, New York City, and a high-paying career! And Emily is perfectly OK with that. In fact, she says that “she’s never felt better!” She seems to mean it because although she looks sad for about a minute, there are no tears or hanging around in her PJs eating ice cream out of the carton. Although this spoke volumes for her strength and self-sufficiency and not needing a man to complete her, it kind of sucked for the romance. At this point, the Hallmark Gods had to intervene because God forbid a woman is alone with friends, family, and a thriving business at the end of a Hallmark movie. He changes his mind off-camera and comes back. And now she is really really happy. We get the final (and only) kiss and fade out before he can change his mind again.

In addition to the problematic romance, We have a creepy and possibly mentally ill father. His antics at a party near the end were not funny. He was horrifying. And I found his conversation with Emily about her attraction to Garrett inappropriate and uncomfortable. Throw in Emily’s self-righteous and judgmental attitude towards Mandy, a truly hateful and psycho bride, an abundance of dead and diseased caterpillars, and losing the entertaining Mandy for most of the movie until she is resurrected and rehabilitated at the end, this movie had me feeling caterpillars, not butterflies.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

March 14, 2022