Romance Retreat

Dana and Draco

This was an uncharacteristically funny script especially for what people are assuming is a Hallmark-type movie. It has nothing much in common with your typical Hallmark or Hallmark-clone templates other than that it is a romantic comedy. It has some wit and a lot to say about the Yoga and New-Age culture which it fondly sends up along with the journalistic tabloid ethic that will sacrifice truth and fairness in favor of click-bait.

Dana, a workaholic journalist is going on vacation with her fed-up-with-her boyfriend. Because she is so cluelessly obsessed with her career and her phone, rather than paying attention to real life, she thinks she is going to an Indonesian Beach while she ends up in the wilds of Canada with no cell service or internet. Amanda Shull does a great job, exposing our heroine’s unattractive traits and mindset while still making her likable. We root for her (while we are rolling our eyes at her earlier behavior) as her character changes and grows.

In Canada, she finally gets dumped by the guy that brung her due to her attitude and neglect. She ends up becoming friendly with an incognito tech genius/millionaire that she is coincidentally doing an expose’ on. Hilarity and a sweet romance ensue.

Stefan, the love interest is played by Morgan David Jones who is either Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton’s doppelganger or his better-looking older brother. I would be favorably disposed on his behalf because of this resemblance anyway, but his performance does not disappoint.

This is not a Hallmark movie, but aired on UPtv. In addition to the witty and funny script and the out-of-the-box subject matter, the director is the late Steve DiMarco. He was a respected if eccentric television director of a legit and large body of work and not in the Hallmark “stable.” He passed away last month. RIP.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

January 29, 2021

Single and Ready to Jingle

Tinsel Town

The premise for this one had a lot of promise and opportunity for laughs and romance and largely succeeded. Emma is a senior vice-president of Tinsel Toy Company, and being the Christmas season and in the toy industry she has had it up to here with Christmas. For her vacation, which is a couple of weeks before the toy-centric holiday, she is looking forward to going to a Christmas-free zone in the Caribbean. I guess toy companies aren’t too busy a few weeks before Christmas? Whatever. She has her airhead assistant book a trip to St. Johns for a week of beaches, bikinis, and drinks with umbrellas. She gets on the plane for a direct flight to the tropical island but when she deplanes, she finds herself in fictional St. Johns, Alaska. We are treated to a pretty funny visual of her in a sun dress with all of the fur-coated and parka-ed fellow passengers fighting minus 12-degree cold and fierce winds to get from the plane to the terminal. It doesn’t say much for her situational awareness that she never notices that something might be a little off with this airplane flight before she is hit with a blast of cold air instead of balmy heat and sunshine, but whatever. It is pretty funny. The love interest is Connor, the brother of the inn owners who put her up until she can get the next plane out of town. He also has a secret identity which is a big reveal towards the end. Don’t worry, he’s not Santa Claus. Both the Inn and the whole town are like a Christmas bomb went off. Emma stays and stays. First due to a snowstorm and lack of cell service and then she waffles back and forth saying she’s going to go the next day but never actually leaves.

Much of the humor in this is due to the excellent comic timing of Natasha Wilson who plays Emma. One of the funniest scenes is her confronting her clueless assistant over the phone about booking her to the wrong St. Johns.

“And you thought there was only one St. Johns on the planet?”

“ It’s the only one I’ve ever heard of! Except the one in the Bible!”

 There were enough other funny bits to keep it entertaining. Unfortunately, there were a lot of hard-to-believe aspects, situations, and behavior some of which were easy to ignore, but there were way too many of them. They started to pile up which made them a distraction. St. Johns is one mysterious town. Large enough for an airport that had regular non-stop flights to Miami Florida, and lots of fancy stores, but small enough to have our hero as the small-town style part-time mayor. It certainly didn’t act like a town in Alaska.

It was refreshing that Emma didn’t hate Christmas, she was just sick of it. And though she was fish out of water, she was a pretty good sport about it most of the time. When there was the inevitable fight with Connor, they made up pretty quickly and she rightly apologized for her rather incomprehensible behavior. Despite the silly title it was fine. And it refreshingly ended with Connor and Emma going back to the big city rather than staying near home and hearth in the frozen north.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Scentsational Christmas

Doesn’t Stink

Ellie is a chemist who works for a perfume company. She is working on a signature fragrance for a pop artist superstar that will make her career if it passes muster with the young influencer and propel her to Paris, the City of Light. This is a pun, as you will see. While she is waiting for the young diva to try her creation, she goes home to New Hampshire for Christmas. Her family has been in the candle-making business for 150 years but when she gets home she finds the business all but in ashes. Since the death of her mother, who was the brains of the operation, her hopeless father has not been able to keep the business afloat creatively (his wicks are crooked) nor business-wise (he writes important orders on the backs of old receipts.) To make matters worse, the recipe for their famous wish-granting “Christmas Candle” has been lost with the death of the mother. It is a measure of Ellie’s character that she doesn’t murder dear old dad or literally light a candle to the business and collect the insurance money. She takes things in hand and soon she has pulled her legacy back from the brink, except for the one thing that can secure its future: the secret ingredient to the Christmas Candle. Meanwhile, the young pop diva has a hysterical meltdown when she gets a whiff of Ellie’s perfume. Apparently, it contains pine and she hates pine because she was trapped in an Ikea store as a child. It gets a whole lot more complicated and I haven’t even mentioned the love interest who is a peripatetic journalist who is doing a piece on the family candle-making business. Or the family legend regarding the magical Christmas Candles. The rest of the movie proceeds with the journalist and Ellie on a quest for the secret ingredient, which, when found, turns out to be the perfect scent for her young client. Then the big conflict happens.  

This was just meh. Nazneen was fine as usual, the love interest was competent if somewhat of a non-entity who seems very lackadaisical about his job. The ending was super-cheesy and doesn’t bear a lot of scrutiny. The future of the romance and her career seemed to be a little vague. I prefer things nailed down. On the other hand, The candle-making aspect was interesting and I don’t think it’s ever been done before. A welcome break from bakers, vintners, and confectioners.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Serving Up the Holidays


A restaurant-owning chef whose sales are flagging a bit after a strong debut is sent on a retreat for amateur foodies and chefs by her partner to recharge and find inspiration. This is a Christmas movie, so the main reason for her struggles is Christmas related. She is a daughter of a renowned Chef whose restaurant was always open at Christmas, and because her parents were so busy during the season and always working on Christmas Day, she never got the warm fuzzies for the season. She refuses to institute a comfy simple nostalgic Christmas menu and insists on sticking with her uber-sophisticated artistic creations that we are told are not in demand during the Christmas season. She gives in when she and her partner learn that their main investor is about to pull out due to a lack of Christmas buzz. She arrives at the mountain retreat and learns to her consternation that the class is being taught by her old Cordon Bleu rival and frenemy, James, the love interest.

 I liked the looks of the actress who played chef Scarlett. I think she had a certain edge to her delivery as well. However, the character was written as an arrogant and rude brat. A legend in her own mind. She is contemptuous of her fellow classmates because they are just beginners. She isn’t outwardly unkind to them, but with her body language and cold eyes, you can just feel her disdain for the situation she finds herself in. She rudely doodles on her notebook and conspicuously ignores the chef/teacher while he is trying to lead the class. She contradicts him. When tasked with coming up with ideas for gingerbread that isn’t a gingerbread man, she comes up with designs like a ship in a bottle that are clearly, if not impossible to realize, certainly beyond the scope of the class. She was thoroughly unlikeable and behaved badly throughout most of the show. The character needed an actress who could balance some of the bad traits with some warmth and vulnerability, not enhance them.

Of course, she softens later and learns a thing or two from Chef James and her mother who is also a respected chef but also unpretentious and a breath of fresh air. But by that time, her character is so firmly established that I just didn’t buy the transformation. The hero was a peach and she was a pill, so the romance just didn’t work for me either. He was too soft for her and on her. What she needed was a thorough comeuppance. And she didn’t get it.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Cloudy with a Chance of Christmas

Boring with a Chance of Snoozing

Cute title. But unfortunately, it is dull dull dull, and essentially an hour and a half commercial for Leavenworth, Washington, which is a picturesque if touristy Bavarian Village and home of the Nutcracker Museum. I would like to go there sometime if I am ever in that neck of the woods. But I don’t think I will watch this very informative infomercial again.

Bridget Torres is of Puerto Rican extraction and is the very popular night weather person for her Los Angeles (I think) network. She doesn’t like Drake who is the cohost of the morning show because she thinks he chose his current co-host over her because of their “commonality” meaning “not a minority.” Bridget is a star on the rise, and has been given an important opportunity to host her own on-location Christmas feature in Leavenworth, Washington (see above). Drake’s co-host, Tatum, is jealous and because she is already a star, is allowed to horn in and basically try to steal the spotlight from Bridget. Meanwhile, Drake very passively just goes along with it while looking disgusted even though, far from not wanting to work with Bridget as a co-host, she was actually his first choice. He has had a crush on her from the very beginning. He and his family are from Leavenworth and the crew will be staying at the family resort. He takes Bridget on a multi-day tour of the town (see above), and they get close. She realizes that Drake is actually a good guy with a nice family. Meanwhile, Tatum is revealing her true colors including having somewhat of a hissy fit when she finds out she has to do her own hair and make-up.

Nothing much else happens. For example, the big crisis that brings everything to a head is whether to use a fake snow machine or not. They peacefully compromise. Yawn. Tatum, though unpleasant and bossy does not even come close to derailing Bridget’s big break and the whole feature is a big success. I did like that Bridget always stood up for herself without being unpleasant. She gets her own show and finds out that Drake ended up accepting Tatum as his cohost because the network needed Bridget to save the nighttime broadcast and he was afraid that his feelings for Bridget would compromise his professionalism. This all comes as a surprise to Bridget.  If he liked her so much, why didn’t he privately explain that to her? Why didn’t he have her back while Tatum was trying to take over the Christmas show?  Unasked and unanswered. Tatum apologizes at the end and Bridget agrees to go on a date with Drake. Yawn.

There were some casting problems in this. Brandon Quinn did not have the look of a morning tv host with his scruffy beard, rugged looks, and resting sad face. Also, I still haven’t forgiven him for being such a jerk in A Country Christmas Harmony. 70’s and 80’s TV sex symbol, actress and singer Audrey Landers played his mother. It was great to see her again and looking very young for her age to boot. Way too young to be playing Brandon Quinn’s mother. The two leads never seemed to forget they were pretending in front of a camera. Now Sarah Jane Morris was great as the villainess who turns out to be pretty OK at the end. She mastered her character’s frozen smile and outwardly friendly demeanor while raging and scheming on the inside. She was kind of scary, but nothing ever came of it.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

A Country Christmas Harmony

Chrissy Deserves Better

Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious. Seldom have I been more disgusted by the behavior of a TV romance man. Let me back up. This one starred Brooke Elliot whom I have never heard of, but is kind of a big deal apparently, starring in the recent TV series, Drop Dead Diva.  I’ve never seen that show but she was great in this. There also was a little kid in this played by Caden Dragomer (great name) who was also terrific. Brooke plays Chrissy, a Nashville singing star whose career has taken a hit due to a failure of a song called “Reindeer Slay”. We see a clip of it and it is actually awesome. Anyway, her manager insists she goes back to her hometown to film a concert to get back to her roots and stop being trendy. She has not been back for 10 years where she also left her former musical and romantic partner, Luke.  More on that later. The actor,  Brandon Quinn, bears a strong resemblance to Colin Ferguson, a former Hallmark regular who is now the Maytag Man. Getting close to her old hometown, driving with her assistant, Eugene, played by former Who’s the Boss alumnus, Danny Pintauro.  She has to go pee really bad due to her nervous water-drinking habit. She runs into a restaurant/bar which is now owned by her hometown boyfriend and they have a meet cute along with his Granny. He behaves very rudely toward her. which, of course, is standard procedure in rom-coms. Just to fill out the rest of the plot, Back in their 20s when they were struggling to make it in dive bars and other sparsely attended venues, she was the real draw with her great voice and he was the guitar player and primary songwriter. He is very resentful of her leaving, and at this point, I thought, “Well, maybe he has good reason. After all, she did leave on Christmas.” Granny forces him to take her to dinner and they are getting along great reminiscing. But when she mentions that she will be filming a concert there, he gets all angry again and huffs and puffs saying that he thought she came back because she missed her small town, and maybe him, and wanted to reconnect, but “you are here FOR WORK!” Boo-de-hoo-hoo. He says some really mean things, yells that she is a fake person without an authentic bone in her body, and leaves her at the dinner table. What a Drama Queen. And rude!

At this point, I was starting not to like this guy, even though we have already learned that he adopted his sister’s baby after she died in an accident ten years ago shortly after Chrissy left. After having a heart-to-heart with each other they make up and Chrissy asks him to write a Christmas song for her concert. She is under a lot of pressure from her handlers to sing a duet with Brad, her ex, which she for sure doesn’t want to do. He agrees in return for singing at his Granny’s annual Christmas bash at the bar. They kiss, etc. They continue to bond and Chrissy also gets close to Brandon. After the big misunderstanding, they have their happy ending in which Luke agrees to follow her to Nashville because home is not a town, but wherever she is.

This is why I couldn’t stand this guy:

First off, He hasn’t dated anyone since Chrissy because he worries about what would happen if Brandon didn’t like her. Nothing would happen, Doofus. He might love her and if he doesn’t, you move on. His excuses are so phony and a way to blame the kid, rather than his own choices for not engaging with the opposite sex.

Second, we find out the real story behind her “abandoning him” for fame and fortune. The reason why she left was that she wanted to have her shot in Nashville after hanging around Hicksville with him until she was 28 years old. He refused to leave his hometown in no uncertain terms, trying to manipulate her into staying put, despite her talent and promise. So when her parents gave her a one-way ticket to Nashville for Christmas, she was strong enough to leave despite his threat. (She did leave him a note.) Soon after, her parents retired to Key West, so she had no home there to come back to, anyway. So he pouts for 10 years when his evil plan didn’t work.

Third, no Christmas decorations or a Christmas tree with a little kid in the house? Other than laziness or too much wallowing in his personal issues, why not? Letting his 10-year-old mourning for his sister outweigh her son’s happiness is not what his sainted sister would have wanted, I’m sure. He does change his mind and they go up in a blink of an eye. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Fourth. At first, he wouldn’t introduce the child who is a fan of the country star let alone take him to her concert. Again, denying his child a treat to nurse his personal grievances.

Fifth. When her ex Brad shows up uninvited and unannounced in the middle of an intimate moment with Luke at his bar, Luke storms out of the place, even though she is plainly shocked and upset by his arrival. He doesn’t give her a chance to explain, just abandons her there in the middle of a winter snowstorm. Stranded. With no way to get home, except with Brad. Who actually turns out to be a pretty nice guy, despite his referring to himself in the third person.

Now here’s the kicker. Granny gives him a good talking to telling him to get over himself and quit with the pity party. He seems to get it, especially when she tells him he needs to do something to make it up with Chrissy, because if he does nothing, that is exactly what he is going to get. Nothing. The next time we see him he is sitting by himself in his house reading a book at the same time that Chrissy’s concert is going on. Doing exactly NOTHING! Little Brandon, Granny, and Chrissy have to trick him into coming to the concert where they finally make up. Chrissy deserves better. She was nothing but sweet, funny, and classy throughout the whole thing and I don’t see happily ever after in her future.

I do want to say that the singing in this was excellent, unlike another movie I saw a couple of days ago. I don’t know if Brooke Eliot was doing her own singing or not, but I could readily believe she was a Nashville star. Also, I was really really disappointed that the winter storm that happened in this one was not Winter Storm Megan. I guess Lifetime dropped the running joke it had that when a storm was called for to advance the plot, It was always the same storm running through all their Christmas movies, tieing them all into the same universe. It was fun and funny.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The Christmas Retreat

Rhiannon Fish Moves up the Likability Scale

This one was OK. The first time I really liked Rhiannon Fish in a role was in the recent Hallmark Mystery, Nicky and Nora: Sister Sleuths. So I went into this one giving her the benefit of the doubt and she really came through, showing some good acting and comic timing. She is very very pretty, which is not always a plus.

She starts off playing a real pill and a bit of a brat. And she does it well, starting with her first chance confrontation with the hero, from whom she steals a cab. She is on her way to getting engaged to her long-term boyfriend who ends up dumping her instead. And you can’t blame him a bit. She is all about her work and career, not even silencing her phone during what she expects to be a marriage proposal (Besides being 45 minutes late despite the Cab Caper).

Her mother sees the problem and insists she spends Christmas with her at a Christmas Retreat, which surprise surprise ends up being owned by the guy she just screwed (as in tricked out of the cab, of course). He has just resigned from his company because he was unjustly passed over for a promotion. Good for him.

As she spends time at the retreat with her mother and participates in the activities designed to help the guests regain their Christmas spirit, she finally starts to enjoy herself and own her issues. At first, her reluctance to give up her phone and her bad attitude towards participating lead to some comedy and funny banter with Mark, the hero. Most of the middle got a little on the boring side, and the end was marred by Mark’s behavior toward Rhiannon in the inevitable “big misunderstanding”, which was even more confounding than usual. Her ex-boyfriend shows up all contrite and wants her back, and Mark gets jealous, ignoring their established strong connection and her practically begging him to admit their love. For a nice guy, he acted like a stupid jerk.

Anyway, he regains his sanity and goes after her resulting in the happy ending. They both give up their careers for a more authentic and easy-going life in the woods, spreading Christmas cheer all year long.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Santa Boot Camp

The Two Leads and Santa Saved This One

Emily Kinney was very appealing in this. Very Cute. I really liked her, and she and Rita Moreno kept me watching this to the end.

Emily plays an event planner who has snagged a very high-profile client which will really help her business. He is very demanding, however, and will only settle for the best Santa in the history of the world for his Christmas party or he will fire her like he fired the last event planner. He is played by Patrick Cassidy of *those* Cassidys. Due to some Christmas magic, Emily finds out about “Santa Boot Camp” which trains Santas and other Christmas characters. She is correct that this is the best place to find the perfect Santa because it soon becomes apparent that the boot camp is run by the real Mr. And Mrs. Claus, played by John Shuck and Rita. I was very surprised to see John Shuck in the credits. I remember him from Macmillan and Wife. Anyway, Emily has to join the boot camp to earn Rita’s recommendation for the best Santa. She has a romance with the camp chef, who is almost too gorgeous.

I am floored by how beautiful and full of vitality 90-year-old Rita Moreno is. Short of selling her soul to the devil, she must have the best genes and/or the best plastic surgeon in the world. She looks very young for her age but totally natural, unlike other actors who have had work done. I won’t mention another elderly (85 years) actress who graced a Hallmark production recently. Bless her. Ms. Moreno looks like a very believable 65, and could probably pass for younger. And speaking of casting, I do want to give Lifetime props for featuring a deaf actress as Emily’s lovely mother. It was no big deal, just normal life.

The end was a little ham-handed. The magical mystery part, which was done subtly and charmingly through the whole movie, including Rita’s beautiful wardrobe, was too explicitly revealed and broadly done at the end. To my mind, there should have kept a bit of nuance and mystery about the pair’s true identity. Just a bit.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Six Degrees of Santa

Free the Tense

I will always prioritize movies that star Steve Lund, so I gave this a chance. Also, I wanted to exorcise the memory of the horror that was his other 2022 Christmas Movie in which Steve was dumped by the widow that wasn’t.

I liked the concept of this Lifetime movie and our heroine Steph’s personal Christmas project, Six Degrees of Santa. It’s kind of a Christmas gift chain letter. Santa#1 buys a gift that is meaningful to them and gives it anonymously to a stranger or a friend who in turn does the same. The sixth recipient gets to keep it. Steph’s own Santa#1 gift eventually reaches a tech mogul she despises. But he is touched by the gift which is a book that meant a lot to him as a child. He reaches out to Steph, who is easy to find because her project has gone viral with people all over the world. He wants to find the person who bought the gift originally, thinking that they will have a real connection because of the book they have in common. Steph wants nothing to do with him so she lies and tells him the original buyer is her shallow social media-obsessed next-door neighbor. She sets him up with her.

I loved Steve Lund in this but didn’t care for the actress who played Steph, or her character. Firstly, the choice of cosmetics for this movie did not suit her looks. I read her impressive bio, and Kathryn Davis appears to be a beautiful and multi-talented performer. I even liked her in another movie, but just didn’t care for her or her character in this one. Her delivery seemed anxious, tense, and high-strung. She talked in a too-fast staccato manner. I just wanted to tell her to calm down. As for her character, Steph’s whole relationship with Steve was based on a lie. She started to fall for him and see his true self underneath the surface, but wouldn’t tell him the truth. That premise for a plot is boring and is used far too often. Plus, her character is not too bright about how to make the most of her idea. She was blind and stubborn until the very end. Her mother accuses her of not being able to see the forest for the trees and she was absolutely right. It was too frustrating. I liked her family, including her ex-husband. Full disclosure: I fast-forwarded through much of this because I saw exactly where this was going and I didn’t have the patience for still another “just tell the truth!” plotline. Also, the premise that any single woman, let alone two, would not want to date a handsome billionaire who is also a nice guy played by Steve Freaking Lund was just too ludicrous.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reindeer Games Homecoming

Good Show.


Most of the aging TV romance actresses should take a page from Sarah Drew’s book. Sarah is 42 years old but looks 10 years younger. It might be genetics, but in my opinion, it was the minimalistic lowkey way in which she was made up. Of course, that gorgeous red hair doesn’t hurt either. I love that tomboyish girl next door look. As the hero says about her character, “She is a breath of fresh air.”

Mackenzie “Mac” is a high school science teacher in her old hometown school. A former classmate who is now a famous movie action star comes to town to help his pregnant sister, whose husband is deployed. He goes to the school to visit his nephew in the middle of class. There must have been a good reason for this, but I don’t remember what it is. It turns out that Mac had a crush on Chase back in the day, and Chase started to return her feelings when they were on a field trip together to a science fair in New York City. But when they got back home, he dumped the school brainy nerd to hang with his usual popular kids’ group.

Mac is still devastated by the grief of losing her beloved father a few years before and can’t move forward. We learn later that she completed medical school but quit her residency when her father died. She is torn about going back. She would make a great doctor but loves her community and teaching. “Big grief puts things in perspective,” she says.

Chase’s career has taken a downward turn and he wants to branch out to more serious movies. While competing together in the “Reindeer Games” for charity they renew their acquaintance. They help each other, start to flirt, and ultimately fall in love. I think they might even have gone to bed together off-screen. There are a few subtle hints. Chase is even thinking of not going back to Hollywood as he has fallen for Mac and the joys of small-town life. Mac still doesn’t entirely trust Chase because of his history of getting swept up in the moment but moving on when he comes down to earth. He begs her for a second chance to show he can go the distance. He encourages her to read the last Christmas Eve letter from her dead father, and she is inspired to complete her residency and become a doctor. At this critical juncture, his agent shows up with the 3 picture deal of his dreams which will revitalize his career and probably win him an Oscar. But he has to go to Munich and will be away for months making these movies. This is trouble. She breaks up with him (before he can break up with her) so they can both pursue their career dreams on opposite sides of the universe. Don’t worry, love triumphs in the end. I won’t say how but it involves a crossword puzzle. They both will pursue their dreams and their relationship deciding they will just “figure it out” somehow. I liked that.

This was one of the usual plots, but it was good. It had plenty of humor, including both situational and funny one-liners, but it also had some sadness and heartbreak too. It was well-balanced and well-rounded with no silliness. Her grief for her father was a little over the top, but it was well-acted. Justin Breuning who played Chase was good too and he and Sarah Drew were good together. Mac’s gay friend was overdone and got on my nerves. I explained Mac’s whole story up front, but in the movie, it is slowly revealed. I liked wondering what was up with her and Chase and why a girl who was nicknamed “Pre-Med” in high school wasn’t a doctor, but a teacher. Good show.

Rating: 4 out of 5.