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

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