Yellowstone Romance

Wacky Fun

After being away for work, Olivia returns to New York City and finds her best friend and roommate, Amber, engaged to a guy she’s only known for a few months. Olivia disapproves. Amber is a city girl and a ditz. Her new fiance is a rancher and Amber will be following him to the boondocks. Olivia thinks (rightly) that Amber does not know what she is getting into. In the guise of a “bachelorette retreat,” She takes Amber to a working Dude ranch along with their other best friend, Jason, to give her a taste of what is in store for her. Olivia selfishly does not want to lose her best friend and roommate, but she also is genuinely concerned.

What follows is kind of a hoot. First, the trio arrives at the ranch dressed in New York City’s idea of what is proper ranch wear. It is a cute visual. They are greeted by the ranch owner and his son, played by Christopher Russell.  Christopher’s natural fallback position in his roles is laid-back and easy-going. He was perfectly cast in this role as the strong but silent cowboy who is unhappily roped into taking care of the “citidiots” and showing them a good time as well as a taste of authentic ranch life. The “Dude” part of the dude ranch is just until his Dad makes the extra money to pay the back taxes.   It’s all wacky fun while the three take on Getting up at the crack of dawn, camping, horse riding, egg-gathering (and breaking), fence repair, cattle herding, barn dancing, wolf and bear avoiding, etc.

To Olivia’s surprise and frustration Amber is game for everything and her enthusiasm never flags. Except when she is attacked in a river by a leech. And who can blame her for that? Cowboy Travis is exasperated but is very good at hiding his annoyance at the situation, and it’s not long before the trio’s good humor and effort earn his respect and liking. The actress who played Olivia really grew on me and had great chemistry with Christopher Russell. Amber and their friend Jason were funny, and Christopher was in his element. And when CR is on point, he is the bomb-diggity.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 18, 2022

Aloha With Love

Lots of Crying

This one was pretty good with some problems. I liked the actress who played the female lead. Tiffany Smith had unusual strong features that went beyond typically pretty. She reminded me of Jamie Gertz. However, I usually do not appreciate the ubiquitous Trevor Donovan, an often used actor for Hallmark and its clones. This one was on UPtv. He is just so BLOND. His acting is no more than competent and brings nothing special to roles, except a very muscular chest which is shirtlessly shown off to great effect here. He is very popular though, apparently. It’s a me problem.

Gemma is a star architect who works with her boyfriend of 4 years, a realtor, who also works at their firm. She presents a top-notch brilliant proposal for a condominium to a developer. He is crass and insulting to her, presumably because she is a woman. And even though she answers all the questions with which he had hoped to trip her up, he turns the firm down and rudely walks out using the excuse that there are 66 units rather than the 76 he had asked for. Her boyfriend blames her and behaves like a jackass. So right away you hate the guy and are rooting for her to break-up with him. And she does! So now I’m a fan even though she cries about losing him for some reason.

She gets word that her beloved aunt has passed away(more crying) in Hawai’i and has left her valuable property, and a not-so-valuable house to her and her sister to sell or keep as they wish. The one condition is that they have to restore and renovate the tumbledown house first and use Trevor as the contractor who (shocker!) happens to be Gemma’s ex. Obviously we have a “matchmaking from the grave” situation.

All precedes very predictably with the two clashing over the job at first. She just wants a “refresh” so she can get back to her career in L.A. quickly, and he wants the complete renovation the house deserves. They learn to work together, and romance boringly ensues. But Uh oh. Here comes the old boyfriend all contrite because now she’s rich. And he wants her to sell the property to creepy condominium developer and she actually agrees to it. So now I am not such a fan.

We have a very long mawkish sappy scene with Gemma’s father crying about his sister, and a nothing short of miraculous transformation of a shack to house beautiful in 48 hours. Seeing the house as it was meant to be causes Gemma to rethink the sale (just as Trevor predicted). She is still unsure but thanks to her jackass ex publicly and suspiciously  proposing marriage right there on the lawn and arrogant condominium guy stupidly insulting her again (!) (he just can’t help himself) she comes to her senses.

So lots of crying (bad) spectacular scenery (good), male costar I don’t like (bad), new fresh female lead (good), strong supporting characters (good). Impossibly speedy home renovation (complete with Art)-(bad), and impossibly stupid bad guys (bad). Also it was tremendously risky of Trevor to renovate a house, spending dozens of thousands of dollars when chances were it would be demolished in a week or two (bad). It’s a Hallmark 6.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

May 8, 2022

A Bridesmaid in Love

“The Big Misunderstanding”

I really like Tori Anderson and her pretty smiley eyes. She’s been in at least two other Hallmarks I’ve seen, and she was the primary reason why those movies were at least watchable. In one, she was the only bright spot, and in the other, she was an important ingredient in a production that worked in several ways. In this one, everything was going along fine, until towards the end when we came to “big conflict” time.

Let me back up. Tori plays a freelance writer whose specialty is tips and advice for brides and weddings. She is kind of like a wedding planner, but she actually is a “professional bridesmaid” who solves problems or possible disasters that crop up and adds great ideas to make good weddings even better. She does this for brides in exchange for a healthy contribution to a worthy charity. Then she writes about it. When her childhood friend whose brother Matt was also once one of her best friends, is planning her wedding, Tori steps up. She has recently broken up with her loser boyfriend of 1 year, and Matt is the love interest. I really liked Matt. He was very attractive in a guy next door kind of way and was super sweet, like Tori. They were perfect for each other and were soon well on the way to googly eyes and true love, with Tori saving her friend’s wedding from disaster right and left. Venue, caterer, dress, you name it and Tori saves it.

Everything was burbling along fine, with a few side plots in addition to the wedding adventures. Her veterinarian ex starts to pop up as well, which added to the anticipation and suspense. We see that he is regretting his assholery, and we are seeing that Tori (along with the viewer) is wondering what the heck she saw in him in the first place. I mean, when he shows up at her Dad’s coffee shop on his way to the “Hamster Rehabilitation Conference” and her eyes start to dart around looking for escape, we know she has moved on. But he is clueless and he makes time in his busy busy Kitty and Puppy schedule to trap her alone so he can propose marriage.

And this is where the movie takes a turn for the worse. Nice Matt sees him getting down on one knee and, despite their burgeoning love, good times, soulful gazes, and intimate conversations, he turns his back and leaves the premises without bothering to see the outcome. Because of course if a guy gets down on one knee, there is only one conclusion one can make, right? The girl has to say yes. No. There are two possible outcomes, Matt. “Yes, I will marry you,” or “Thanks, but no thanks.” To make his insulting conclusion jump much worse, he acts like a total jerk to her for the last 20 minutes of the movie. He gives her the cold shoulder and is very rude. Tori is confused and heartbroken, and I was irate. It was a very very bad example of “The Big Misunderstanding”. The utter stupidity ruined a pretty decent movie.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

March 11, 2022

Art of Falling in Love

Poor guy

**Spoilers**

This one started out strongly. I liked Kimberley Sue Murray in Love Upstream. There’s something about curly red hair… and she was very funny and likable. The hero I wasn’t familiar with, but I liked his down-to-earth normal guy looks. It appeared that it was going to go out of the box a bit as there was a bit of a very subtle Christian theme, and the heroine is seen getting alarming dizzy spells and popping prescription pills. Hmmmm… this might be interesting.

Vanessa (Murray) is an artist who gets commissions to paint murals on hospital walls that she doesn’t charge for. She is famous and acclaimed and travels all over the country. She is working on a mural for a children’s wing that Nate designed and she overhears him saying he isn’t sure it fits in with his vision. OOOh, them’s fightin’ words. She spunkily tells him the mural is not for him but for the sick children. Good one, Vanessa! Of course, he apologizes and they make up and the love story commences. We learn through flashbacks that she had cancer and was very close with another cancer patient who died. The dead one is her “guardian angel” and she also left Vanessa a trust fund and a list of activities (take tango lessons, go rock climbing, go scuba diving, take a cooking class, fall in love, get married, stuff like that) to live life to the fullest. She shows him the list and he innocently calls it a bucket list. She freezes up. This is the first in a long line of her giving him the cold shoulder over something she takes offense to or some innocent infraction of her precious privacy.

Things go downhill from there, for me. Despite feeling the attraction and connection (whenever she is by herself she swans around and simpers with happiness at the thought of him) she often acts standoffish and demanding when with him. She will not share and is so closed off and secretive about her past that he thinks she is dying rather than recovering from an illness. He himself is just recovering from a divorce because his wife cheated on him. So he is vulnerable and not into secrets. When he finds her passed out on the floor, a side effect of her medication, he begs her to open herself up and let him in. She states petulantly that she is not ready and says something along the lines of “it is her prerogative and her life to live as she pleases.” When he replies, “Well I’ll leave you to it then,” and leaves, I almost cheered. She sees she went a little too far with her mess and apologizes.

Her nonsensical hot and cold behavior continues until it all comes to a head. He finds out his ex-wife, who refused to have children with him, is pregnant. He is hurt and angry and leaves town to take care of a building emergency in Boston. Finally sick and tired of Vanessa’s predilection to take offense at every little thing and lack of openness, trust, and honesty, he cuts her off. Meanwhile, she learns she has a clean bill of health and accepts another commission in Vermont. He comes back, and she is sulky about his treatment of her (even though she tells his mother she doesn’t blame him) and he APOLOGIZES AGAIN. But of course, she has to torture him some more before she finally “forgives” him. I swear, he is a glutton for punishment because they get married. In the end, I positively hated her which is why I gave this a failing grade despite its strong points. Shout out to Kelly Bishop of the Gilmore girls who played Nate’s mother, the misguided matchmaker.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

February 24, 2022

A Vineyard Romance

Four Strong Performances and a Scene Stealer

I approached this one with not a whole lot of enthusiasm or hope. I’d never heard of the main actress before, and Marcus Rosner has never really stood out for me one way or another. I had just seen him in Love Stories in Sunflower Valley with an actress that I really do not like and I was unimpressed once again. He is very handsome, but not much personality. What a difference an easy rapport and chemistry with your co-lead can make! He was very engaging, entertaining, and even funny in this one. The lead actress was gorgeous in a fresh natural way that really appealed to me. They were a great match.

The movie got my attention right away when I learned Marcus Rosner was actually engaged to an internet influencer and our heroine was sent to do a piece for her magazine on their imminent wedding. They were exes and each thinks they were rudely and coldly ghosted by the other. We only know her side of the story at first, and she is understandably upset to find out that he is the prospective groom. When the love interest is set to walk down the aisle, it really raises the stakes on the tension and anticipation of what is to come. The dialogue and situations were fast-paced and funny. The secondary couple’s courtship was cute and involving. He is a widower and she is our heroine, Sam’s, best friend in the old hometown where the action takes place. The two have massive crushes on each other, but they are shy and scared. It was sweet.

But the star of the show is Leanne Lapp playing against type as the self-centered, shallow, and very bubbly fiancé. I have always liked her but she usually plays the supportive friend or sister to the heroine. I didn’t even recognize her at first. She is hilarious as the bride who is more concerned with getting her wedding perfect and publicized than the actual marriage. On top of that, she is angling to get Marcus away from the small town and vineyard (yes, there’s wine-always a plus) he loves and back to the big city she loves. Despite her machinations, such is Leanne’s take and performance of the character, we somehow still like her. When Marcus finally stands up to her and states the obvious, that they are not a good match, we are relieved for him and her. It was about time. Despite her being dumped she doesn’t have the expected meltdown but is a good sport about it. It was very refreshing.

All ends as it should for the two couples and Leanne, who is not exactly heartbroken. I hope this movie propels this talented actress out of the friend zone and into the lead role she deserves.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

02/22/2022

Love Exclusively

She’s a Jerk

This one just didn’t work because the heroine is not a good person. And I’m not even talking about her betraying her friends and her lying all for a fake story that will advance her career as a tabloid journalist.

How do I know she’s not a good person? In the first scene before all the mess she created even happened, she is running down the sidewalk in her town for her daily workout. She comes upon two innocent pedestrians holding hands and sauntering along. Instead of going around them with a smile and an apology, she just busts right through them practically knocking one of them down. She doesn’t even stop. She just goes on running while the victims are looking after her in disbelief. I mean, WTF? Who does that? This is not only rude, it is practically assault and battery. She offers a heartfelt and seemingly sincere apology at the end of the movie to the friends she hurt and victimized. Can we just circle back and get one of those for the two innocent strangers? She’d still be a jerk though.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

January 31, 2022

A Castle for Christmas

Hallmark or Netflix? Hallflix? Netmark?

I was pretty much done with Christmas movies until next Christmas or maybe Christmas in July, but I ran across this by accident on Netflix looking for some mindless entertainment before retiring for the evening. And I am a big Scotland fan. A Castle for Christmas is as pleasant as a romance between two 60-year-olds can be. It is a Netflix original and it’s obviously targeted at those for whom Hallmark, UPtv, GAC, or Lifetime cant churn out enough Christmas. Hard to believe, no? Yet here I am. I’m for more diversity in TV romances as far as age is concerned. I certainly prefer a 60-year-old couple pretending to be in their 40s to Hallmark’s old habit of using actors closing in on 40 in scripts written for actors in their 20s and acting like they are in their teens. A great example of the former is the delightful A Kiss Before Christmas. Brooke Shields is pushing 60, and she looks it. I mean that as a compliment. She has aged naturally and is beautiful.  She would look even better if she would lose the long brown hair and the bronzer. Cary Elwes is 3 years older and doesn’t look it. If possible he is even more attractive now than he was in his youth.

Brooke plays a romantic novelist who is facing a lot of fan hostility due to her killing off a beloved character in her best-selling romance series. She escapes to Scotland to visit a castle that her grandfather was a servant in. She meets the financially struggling lord of the manor and sparks fly as they must and do. Brooke wants to buy the castle and Cary, the grumpy Lord, is torn between giving up his heritage and taking care of his tenants and the community who rely on him. Brooke divides her time between living there at the Castle on the flimsiest of pretexts and hanging out at the local pub/inn with a charming club of Scottish knitters.

The plot is as uninspired and dull as the scenery and townspeople are charming. Netflix went all out on the casting as well, with Drew Barrymore making a rather hefty cameo, Hamish the dog, and Andi Osho playing the warm and friendly innkeeper. Despite the cast and setting, the acting (except for Hamish) and the production as a whole were no better or worse than a slightly above average Hallmark Christmas movie. There was one strange thing. Smack dab in the middle of the goings-on a couple shows up at the Inn and seems to be poised to be game-changers or flies in the ointment or deus ex machinas. They check in and we never see them again. It was very weird.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2022

Love & Where to Find It

Pretty Dull, but Credit Where Credit is Due.

This one starts off owing a lot to You’ve Got Mail. Leena’s little local coffee shop is threatened by a big corporate store that also sells coffee moving in across the street. She meets cute with the manager, Jonah, and they really hit it off before she finds out who he is. Meanwhile, she is helping her best friend send messages to a guy she likes on a dating app because her friend is not a good writer and she is. She really has a rapport with him. It turns out that the guy she is getting personal with via text message is not her friend’s potential date but is Jonah. He is doing the same for his friend as she is. By now the manager is “the enemy” but little does she know.

Thankfully, they drop this trope once the two friends meet on a real date and no longer need a go-between. The main couple starts running into each other and despite her hostility, it is amazing how much they have in common.  They are even friends with the same pig, Bella, at an animal rescue farm. He: “ When I look into Bella’s eyes it’s like she is staring into my soul.” She: ”Totally!” I’m not kidding. And it’s not like “Bella” is even one of those cute pigs. Bella makes a brief cameo appearance and she is the ugliest pig I’ve ever seen. No wonder she got kicked to the curb, poor thing.

Bella

He volunteers at the rescue center during Thanksgiving “rescuing turkeys.” What that involves, I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to, but she is all in. “I’ve always wanted to do that!” He: “You totally should, It’s so fulfilling!” They are both pretty flaky, but I give UPtv points for straying from the usual conventional personalities and interests that are usual for the main couple. As well as promoting Animal Rescue. There’s also a lot of talk about Vegetarianism. The secondary couple loves meat so that provides some balance. Even though the coffee shop goes out of business they avoid all the drama and angst that usually accompanies that plot development. Her main interest is in baking, so her attitude is “Oh well, onward and upward.” Points for that too.

All in all, this was not that good. The reason this earned 6 stars from me was Clayton James who played Jonah. He was charming and lovable and was totally smitten with Leena, who was not very lovable in my opinion. But he was really sweet, and the secondary couple was likable as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 1, 2022

Coffee Shop

The Same, Yet Different.

This little 2014 movie had a very different vibe from the usual Hallmark or other network romances being produced today, so it already had a leg up with me. I think it was probably produced for a Christian production company because there were several references to God, the Bible, or Christian faith. Other than those gratuitous references, there was no other indication that faith or religion had much of an impact on their lives. So it was great for people who are affirmed by that sort of thing, but it was not intrusive.

The film started with a voice-over by the heroine by way of exposition of her dating trials and tribulations after a break up with her “perfect” boyfriend. The beautiful Laura Vandervoort plays Donavan, the beloved owner of a beloved coffee shop on the verge of foreclosure. After a scary and unpleasant meeting with her banker, played by Jon Lovitz, she sees him talking with a stranger, Ben, and thinks they are in cahoots. In reality, Ben is a once-successful playwright who is struggling to write another successful play after two failures. He is visiting his good friend who happens to be Donavan’s sister’s boyfriend. Because of the mistaken identity, Donavan treats Ben very rudely much to his bewilderment. He is just meeting his friend for a cup of coffee and he is being treated like he is a hostile invader. It’s a funny scene and well played.

We know right away that Ben is the love interest. He is very cute and likable, they just had a “meet cute”, and he really gets Donavan. She is trying to re-establish her love life but she is subverting her own personality and preferences in order to please her dates, rather than just being honest about her own likes. He sees this right away. After a rough beginning, and despite her sister who has taken him in dislike for some reason, they start to fall in love.

He soon has some competition with her ex-boyfriend who has slimeball written all over him. He has come back to town to ostensibly woo her back but really to help the banker sell her coffee shop to one of his big-city clients who is going to (gasp!) turn it into a parking garage! Betrayal!

I enjoyed this. Although it was a very simple and predictable love story, it had really nice warm cinematography and a cozy, intimate atmosphere. There were no silly scenes or gratuitous montages that only serve as a substitute for story-telling. The secondary characters had their own little stories and nicely sketched in personalities. There was suspense and anticipation as to what would transpire and how the inevitable happy ending would come about. In the end, we get Laura’s voice-over again which wraps up the story nicely. And even a breaking of the fourth wall with a little wink at the audience by Laura. It was a nice little touch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 26, 2022

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