The Winter Palace

Surprisingly Watchable

Plot-wise, this was a garden-variety example of the royal/commoner romance plot. Danica McKellar is a new author with one successful novel who is being pressured to submit her second romance novel per her contract. Predictably she has writer’s block and is given the opportunity to be a caretaker at a remote lodge in the mountains to write in some peace and quiet. No, it’s not haunted and she doesn’t turn into a homicidal maniac. Sorry to disappoint. It’s a teeny-tiny little lodge (or very large cabin), hardly The Overlook Hotel or a “Winter Palace” per the rendering on the poster. The owners are European and haven’t been there for years. All she has to do is knock the icicles off the eaves, take care of the furnace, and find her inspiration to honor her contract. The owner shows up unexpectedly and it’s a prince with his two minions.

This was watchable thanks to Neal Bledsoe who played the prince. He was very attractive and had a lot of charisma. He also had a personality, starting off snooty and entitled and loosening up slowly but surely while becoming enamored of Danica. The two actors had a nice rapport going throughout. Danica was not bad in this one. Despite the usual, and I do mean usual, roadblocks, it all proceeds to a happy ending and I liked the resolution to the “how can an American romance novelist find happiness with a Concordian King” dilemma.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 25, 2022

Blueprint to the Heart

No Make-Over Necessary

My main problem with this one was why any home renovation show or interior designer with any taste would want to change this carpenter’s cute, authentic, and cozy home. They wanted to rip out the hardwood floors, remove the original old wood fir tree beams and knock out the walls to make it a McMansion-style house. And they wanted to do the same to him, basically. This guy who was a casual, cheerful, very talented carpenter who looked like a poor man’s Chris Pratt. And I mean that as a compliment. However, the chemistry between the two principals was excellent and good triumphed over evil in the end. Probably doesn’t deserve it, but I’m giving it 7 stars for the likability and overall appeal of the hero.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 31, 2021

Midway to Love

Appealing Leads with Great Chemistry

I really liked this one primarily due to the likability of the two principals and their chemistry together. Daniel Stine plays an unconventional though very appealing looking hero who was an unlikely match with Dr. Rachel, who was sharp of mind and looks. Mitchell, her love interest was kind of shlubby looking. Kind of a Vince Vaughn type. She is a famous big earning Doctor (a psychoanalyst) and he is a fourth-grade teacher. I do like unconventional pairings so much more than the typical beautiful person falls in love with another beautiful person. It adds relatability, anticipation, and a layer of emotional depth. I liked that although he was not her equal in terms of career choice or “typical” good looks, he didn’t grovel at her feet.

That’s it though. The story was unremarkable and, of course, predictable. The career crisis was interesting and although Dr. Rachel put up with the indignities meted out by the villains way too long, when she did leave, it was a pretty satisfactory scene.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 5, 2021

Love at Sunset Terrace

UPtv Gets it Right Again

This was a very well-done little story. Up TV, in recent days, is really showing up Hallmark in terms of fresh faces, well-written scripts, and character development. The three leads were more than half the appeal. Ellen Woglom was appealing and charming as the female lead. She has a killer smile and I appreciated that she did not have a stick-thin runway model body. Carlo Marx was handsome and likable as the vulnerable father who was over-protective and almost needy with his daughter. The young daughter was played by Erica Tremblay. Again, a young actress who was hired for her talent rather than cutesy-wutesy looks and perky sparkles. She is the younger sister of the multiple award-winning film actor, Jacob Tremblay.

The romantic relationship developed naturally and believably rather than a series of “meet-cutes” and fake instalove based on nothing but two pretty people snarking and bickering at each other. The setting looked like a real place rather than a McMansion plopped down in front of a stunning view. I’d stay there and feel right at home. The conflict was the same old same old (workaholic big city girl reconnects with nature while meeting troubled widowed Dad of young girl and presto chango lifestyles are changed and a new family is formed). But Up TV shows once again that this tired plot can be done in an entertaining and engaging way. Hallmark really should be upping their game. I fear they are have become over-reliant on their “big” name stable of actors and actresses at the expense of giving exciting young talent a chance to shine and scriptwriters who work hard to offer a quality product while still falling within the genre’s parameters.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 21, 2021

My Birthday Romance

Painful.

The fake boyfriend romance trope is one of my favorites and has resulted in some of the funniest and most romantic Hallmark movies made. Among them, My Fake Fiancé, Holiday in Handcuffs, Holiday Date, Snow Bride, Surprised by Love, Holiday Engagement, and many more. I was really looking forward to this one. What a bust.

This movie was completely ruined by Callie’s dysfunctional parents. And dysfunctional in a not humorous way. They were smothering, overbearing, and controlling. They were on her every. single. minute. to get a boyfriend even when she flat out told them that she didn’t need a man to be happy and that she was concentrating on building her business. She is constantly set up on blind dates by them and her sister. Usually, in these romances that feature inappropriate over-involvement in grown children’s lives, one of the spouses is the voice of reason and provides some balance and common-sense advice to the other parent. Not so in this one. I don’t know which of the two parents was more offensive. Possibly the mother, because she made a big point of confiding to Callie that she made her husband wait to marry until she finished grad school. Her desperation to get Callie married did not make sense. And it was made more annoying because Callie, our heroine(?), did not nip it in the bid like any other 35-year-old woman would have. She should have quit being so nice and told them flat out to BACK OFF. If they refused, cut off communication until they get the message.

Instead, she finds a fake date to her birthday party to get her parents off her back, but instead, the parents are on them like vultures. They treat them as if they are madly in love, making them kiss, and immediately act like marriage was right around the corner, instead of just a date she has only known for a week. They publicly toast the happy couple at the Birthday in front of everyone. They make her make a speech when she doesn’t want to and she ends up spilling the truth in a way that humiliates her whole family and herself as well.

She actually declares she wishes that she really was Will’s girlfriend because being his fake girlfriend was just so awesome. By the way, Will is mysteriously absent from most of the party and later Carrie starts looking for him after the debacle and is surprised and disappointed he had left. Then 5 minutes later, when he told her he heard her speech, she says she thought he had gone by that time. So did she know he was not there when she gave her speech, or was she surprised and disappointed at his absence? Lazy writing. Well, it all ends as you would expect. But it was just such a painful journey.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

March 8, 2021

A Hint of Love

A Winning Recipe

Dennis Andres shines in this entertaining and well-written TV romance. This is the second time I have seen him and he is even better in this one. He plays a cookbook author and blogger whose cooking is aimed at busy single fathers who want to serve up a home-cooked meal in less than 30 minutes. In order to expand his brand he gets hooked up with our heroine who is a Cordon-Bleu trained cookbook editor who specializes in high-end hoity-toity fare. Hilarity, conflict, and romance ensue.

As the down-to-earth rough around the edges hero, Will, Dennis Andres overflows with charm and appeal. He is attractive but not GQ male-model handsome. His line delivery is natural whether funny or heartfelt. A few times it sounded like he was ad-libbing his lines. I guess that means he is a good actor. As his love interest, Debs Howard is well cast with her patrician looks. Her character has a good character arc. At first, pretentious, snobby, and self-righteous (as Will tells her to her face), we learn that all is not what it seems on the surface. We find out she is from Albuquerque, her parents are down-home “just folks” and her abandoned dream is to open her own restaurant. The “opposites attract” chemistry between the two is right on and the kiss at the end was…yeah.

The script has some wit and good banter: “Who hates Nachos?! That’s like hating Freedom!” Couldn’t agree more. The initial hostility between the two food-lovers is well balanced. They are at odds but both have some good points in their arguments. They gradually get on the same page through compromise and listening. There is some good conflict from a snooty boyfriend to a weasel of a boss, and cheer-worthy good triumphing over evil scenes at the end.

I will definitely be looking forward to more TV romances with this talented new-to-the-genre actor. Hope he isn’t “discovered” too soon!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 3, 2021

The Holiday Fix Up

All Fixed Up

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 13, 2021

Do I Say I Do?

I Was Entertained

I enjoyed this one. Jessica is a successful author who is very happy to complete her second manuscript for her publisher which will complete her contract with him. She wants to move on as he is her ex-boyfriend and she does not want to work with him anymore. Becca Tobin deserves more roles in Hallmark movies if she wants them. I liked the plot which was a little different from the usual with some interesting dilemmas and character development. The two leads’ chemistry was very good, as was the chemistry between the leads in the secondary romances. The secondary romances added a lot of interest. They were very cute. The pace was good. Always something going on and it didn’t get repetitive or bogged down.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 21, 2021

A Wedding for Christmas

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

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

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

This girl is a real snot.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 2, 2022

Merry Liddle Christmas Baby

Family Scenes but No Real Story

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 30, 2021