A Country Wedding and The Perfect Catch

A Reassessment

Withdrawal from my routine of watching then reviewing the new Hallmark (and occasionally other) Christmas movies led me to re-watch two old Hallmarks from 2015 and 2017. These are ones that I have rated but never reviewed. A Country Wedding, I originally rated as a 7, and The Perfect Catch I rated as a 6. A Country Wedding is a favorite with Hallmarkies with glowing reviews on IMDb and is frequently included in “All-time Favorite, Best of” type lists. Also, it stars one of my favorites, Autumn Reeser.  I anticipated going up in my rating as is usual with movies that I originally rated long ago. With due respect for their recent first-rate efforts, I have sadly had to adjust my standards downwards for Hallmarks in the last few years. At the end, it remained a 7. The Perfect Catch stars a favorite duo:  Nikki Deloach and Andrew Walker. I bumped this one up to a 7 when I finished with it.

I was pretty disappointed in A Country Wedding given my expectations.  Autumn as the owner of a struggling horse rescue ranch was great of course, and Jesse Metcalfe as a country music star was a good match for her.  Also good was Laura Mennell in a ropy blond wig as Jesse’s movie star fiance as was Lauren Holly as her henchwoman/manager. Jesse leaves  Lauren in Hollywood while he cuts ties with his past by finally selling his dead family’s old farm. While there in the country he gets re-acquainted with his old childhood best friend and next-door neighbor, played by Autumn.

There were two main reasons why this one did not impress me as much as I thought it would. First, the southern accents were way over the top and really got on my nerves. Related is the SOP of stereotyping southern small-town people. More importantly, were the characters of the two leads. Autumn was smart and strong. Jesse was dumb and weak. What was he doing engaged to that shallow self-centered Hollywood thing to begin with?  But worse, he persists in stubbornly deceiving himself that he lu-u-u-vs her and continues planning the wedding in the face of huge red flags, not to mention his growing love for Autumn. She is helping him plan the wedding as he had the fine idea to get married there in a barn instead of in Hollywood. When he kisses her in front of everyone on a crowded dance floor, Autumn wisely realizes she is getting in over her head with an engaged man and backs off. Jesse won’t let her alone and follows her around like a puppy dog. He doesn’t get it. Since he won’t take the hint, Autumn is forced to lay it all on the table with no kidding around, even telling him that he does not love his fiance because he doesn’t even know her.  This straightforward honesty is rare in a Hallmark. But instead of seeing the light, he ignores the good advice and ends up apologizing for the kiss explaining that he just got “lost in the moment” and was carried away. It takes the spectacular arrival of his fiance and a lot more hits with the clue stick before he finally finally finally wises up. Autumn takes him back at the end, the fact that he bought her ranch (without knowing it!) having nothing to do with it, of course.

A Perfect Catch met my expectations of impressing me more now than it did originally. It deserved to be bumped up a notch. First of all the easy rapport between Nikki Deloach and Andrew Walker was very enjoyable as usual. Andrew plays a star pitcher who hasn’t been able to find a new team after giving up a grand slam in the World Series. He returns to his hometown and his Mom and Dad to lay low while waiting on his agent to bring him some good news. He meets his old girlfriend, Nikki, who owns a struggling diner in town. She is a divorced single mother of a son who loves baseball but is awful at it.  While he coaches her son he starts to feel more and more at home in the small town and with Nikki. Meanwhile, he repairs the strained relationship with his Dad and encourages Nikki in her brave idea for boosting the diner’s profile and sales. Even though she is in debt and against the advice of her stick-in-the-mud risk-averse accountant boyfriend, she buys a food truck. Her standing her ground against her boyfriend and giving him the heave-ho in a timely and decisive manner is definitely cheer-worthy. And the food truck is a massive success! Yay! Andrew retires from pitching but gets a great position in  MLB that allows him to stay with Nikki and her son! Yay! Plus he will coach at the local school! Yay! And the kid hits a home run! Yay! Totally predictable but very satisfying with an especially neatly resolved and very happy ending for everyone involved. And a special shout out to Lisa Durupt, Hallmark sister/supportive friend/ second fiddle extraordinaire who gives another cute and charming performance. Also liked Andrew’s haircut. He should go back to that floppy-hair look.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Three Wise Men and a Baby

Three Very Popular and Attractive Actors and a Baby

This was cute with some good lines and good physical comedy. Three bickering brothers all live with their Mom, Margaret Colin, who was in the original Three Men and a Baby and Independence Day. She was a welcome surprise. Luke, the well-adjusted and responsible fireman  (Andrew Walker) is there just temporarily while his house is being built. The immature tech guy and gamer (Tyler Hynes)  unsurprisingly lives in the basement and the shy pet therapist (Paul Campbell) in a small house in the backyard. These actors are three of the most popular Hallmark actors, and the script gave each of them an opportunity to shine and show off their appeal. I’m sure this will be very highly rated.

In the familiar plot, a baby is left at the firehouse with a note addressed to Luke to take care of him until Christmas Eve, when she will be back. Luke takes the baby home for his mom to take care of but Mom has to leave for a family emergency, which leaves the unemployed Taylor (fired for being a loudmouthed jerk) to bear the brunt of the babysitting. Paul who is self-employed pitches in and predictable shenanigans follow predictably if amusingly.

Penned by the multitalented Paul Campbell and Kimberley Sustad (who makes a brief cameo appearance, along with Preston Van der Slice), this one had some good lines of which curmudgeonly Taylor got the majority. There was some contrived physical comedy consisting of dressing up in elf costumes for no discernable reason, and the re-creation of a Christmas dance performance the boys made up as kids. Taking care of the baby helps the brothers reconcile and work together. In a dramatic scene after a scare at the hospital, they each admit their share of the blame for their estrangement. Taylor in particular comes forth with a much-needed apology for his past behavior. They also realize and appreciate what an awesome mom they have. They have trouble enough with a baby, while their mother raised three rambunctious boys, damaged by their father’s desertion, by herself.  They decide to enter the neighborhood Christmas light decorating contest. Both to win a cruise for their mother as a special Christmas gift and to beat the former school bully who lives across the street and has been taunting them throughout the picture. Unpredictably, they don’t win due to a last-minute technological malfunction. They compensate with an off-the-cuff no-tech retelling of the Christmas story which, although only vaguely resembles the gospel version, is much more authentic to the true spirit of Christmas. Even though they lose, Mom is more than compensated by the joy of seeing her boys being close friends again.

Oh, and there’s some romance too. After the human “wrecking ball”, Taylor, makes up for his behavior at work he is reconciled with his workmate and former girlfriend, Ali Liebert, who has been popping up throughout the movie. Stephan, the reclusive brother, gets together with a single dog-mom who has pursued him relentlessly throughout the movie. It was a bit of surprise when she turns from a man-hungry cliche into a nice woman. Still, his declaration at the end That he is “enraptured” by her was very much over the top and came out of nowhere. We see in the “One Year Later” epilogue that Luke has gotten together with the down-on-her-luck young mother of the baby. It turns out he helped deliver her which was why she left it with him while she found a job. Even their former nemesis, Mark the neighbor, is included in the festivities.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Merry and Bright

Candy Canes Incorporated

I came upon this older Hallmark Christmas movie by chance a couple of minutes in and up popped Andrew Walker and in walked Jodie Sweetin. I looked it up and not only had I not reviewed this, I had not even seen it. Since I am not reviewing GAC or GAF or whatever they are calling themselves these days anymore, I had caught up with all the movies I had on my DVR.  As I have mentioned, while Jodie has not always been a favorite, she has grown on me in the last 2 years. Her acting and looks always give a down-to-earth relatable aspect to the characters she plays. And she has a killer smile. Andrew is always good, and with the right partner, he can be great. I came in at the “meet cute”. Jodie’s mother (the talented and award-winning Sharon Lawrence) is always trying to fix her up, and Jodie thinks Andrew is a prospective date sent by her mother rather than an important business associate. The misunderstanding results in some pretty amusing back and forth.

Jodie has taken over her grandmother’s candy cane business after her death. It is the family legacy and it is struggling. How successful can a business be with a product you can only sell for 4 or 5 months a year? She knows what she is doing as she has an MBA and gave up a good career in California to take over. The investors or the board of Merry and Bright, the name of the company, have called in a consultant (Andrew Walker) to figure out how to generate more profit for the business. He is Christmas and small-town averse and doesn’t want to be there as much as Jodie doesn’t want him there. They butt heads as Jodie wants to do things her way. This could have been a lot more frustrating than it was, but luckily Jodie is a smart businesswoman and already knows they have to expand their product line.

As Andrew and Jodie work together they soon begin to like and respect each other. Can romance be far behind? That was a rhetorical question. Meanwhile, Sharon has a nice, funny, but heartwarming storyline. I can see why she took this part. She is not a dog person, but a dog at a shelter has caught Jodie’s eye, and Mom reluctantly adopts it for Jodie a week before Christmas as a surprise. Her antics in trying to hide it but not having the heart to leave it alone in the house is cute and sweet. Adorable dogs always elevate a Hallmark movie or any movie, for that matter. Unless the dog is in danger. The final solution to the business problem is clever and sensible. And Jodie lets her Mom keep the dog when she sees how attached they have grown to each other.

This perfectly enjoyable story is capped off by a nice epilogue where we see the renewed success of the business and Andrew getting down on one knee to propose marriage. That is an increasingly rare conclusion to the romance end of these shows these days, and it was refreshing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Maple Valley Christmas

Lots of Conflict

Any Hallmark movie aficionado who has ever rolled their eyes at the “almost kiss” that is usually a fixture about midway through the movie might want to check this one out. About 10 or 15 minutes into it and before the sun has set on the day they meet, the girl launches herself at the guy and plants one on him. He was very surprised, but not half as surprised as I was. It was a jaw-dropper.

Andrew Walker, Aaron, is sent by his property developer father to Maple Valley to buy a piece of land that he has had his eye on for years. The land adjoins the tree farm and maple syrup business of the Holden family. The widowed mother has recently given equal control of the operation to her two daughters. The older daughter, Erica, is determined to buy back this land that once belonged to them. The younger daughter, Heidi, wants to use the money to expand their syrup business and maybe “go retail”. Which left me scratching my head. Their syrup business seems to be their only source of income and is apparently thriving (another shocker). Yet they only seem to sell it at festival booths.

There is a lot of conflict in this one. Aaron and his father are at odds because the father perceives Aaron as lazy and unambitious. Aaron does not like his father’s business practices and putting his company over his family his whole life. When Aaron sees that the “Fernandez land” is more important to Erica and better suited to her needs than his company’s he tells her he will not be bidding on the land after all. Erica is happy, grateful, and more enamored than ever. When he tells his father what his decision is, his father is irate. He does not trust his judgment and thinks he is weak and letting sentiment get in the way of good business. Dad hot-foots it to Maple Valley to close the deal himself. Uh Oh.

There is conflict between the two sisters. The younger, Heidi, does not want to buy the land and feels Erica is running rough-shod over her when they are supposed to be equal partners. She has felt discounted her whole life. The mother is retiring because she is moving to Italy with her boyfriend and wants no part of the sisters’ dispute. Erica is upset that her mother is leaving home and putting love and companionship over family and business. She throws shade at the boyfriend who does not deserve it. She doesn’t like the Christmas tree decorations either. When Erica finds out that the father has overruled Aaron’s decision about the land, she gets upset with Aaron. Erica may not be the most likable heroine ever but at least she communicates. Every one does in this movie which is rare for Hallmark. Aaron quits his father and the company he is heir to in order to start his own company. Erica’s sister quits the family business. Erica and Aaron’s father, the ultimate antagonists, both seem to be in the same boat!

How all of these people come together in love and understanding bowing their heads in prayer at Christmas dinner makes for a pretty interesting journey. The prayer is really nice. I paraphrase, “Thank you for this food, this family, this land, this work, and this life. Thank you for what has come before us and what is yet to come. Thank you for the things we cannot change and the things we can.” There are two things I don’t get. What happened to the Fernandez Land? I must have missed it but did the Holdens buy it, or was Mr. Fernandez left in the lurch? Aaron and his dad hug it out at the end, but does he still quit his company? If I have time I’ll rewatch that last part and get back with you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Bride for Christmas

Great Cast

I recorded this on a whim when I looked at the cast and vaguely remembered that it was pretty good. Sometimes I just don’t have what it takes to invest in a recent premiere movie that I haven’t seen yet. I just read what I wrote there. That is a sad commentary right there. Usually, I look at these re-dos in bed when I wake up in the middle of the night or the last thing before I try to fall asleep.

The plot was entirely predictable of course. The appeal lay in the cast of  Arielle Kebble, Andrew Walker, and Kimberley Sustad in particular. Arielle Kebble is one of the better early Hallmark actresses. Her movies for Hallmark are as memorable as they are few and far between. She is particularly good in those that emphasize lighter comedy rather than earnest heart-tuggery. Although don’t count her out when the story calls for heartbreak, however temporary (as this one does). Our heroine is a runaway bride who we meet Just as she is about to go down the aisle to wed door #3. We know trouble is on the horizon in the dressing room when she asks her mother how she knew her Dad was “the one.” But she walks down the aisle with a big smile. Arielle is very funny as her smile turns from happy and excited then stiff and then a bit panicked as she keeps walking past the wedding party and out the side door without a pause. Andrew Walker does his usual thing (which is a very good thing) as the commitment-phobe who bets his buddies he can get get a woman to accept his marriage proposal by Christmas. It was a little unclear what this was meant to prove. He settles on Arielle.

This is classic romantic comedy material as the “player” courts the gun-shy reluctant jilt and they fall in love for real. Kimberly Sustad, who was only 22 when this movie was made, practically a baby by current Hallmark standards, plays Arielle’s sister and turns a nothing part into one in which she almost steals every scene. I also want to single out Sage Brocklebank as Mike, the jilted bridegroom who is a creepy looming presence as he hopes to win Arielle back and sees her and Andrew falling for each other. He manages to elicit pity for his heartbreak and uneasiness as to what menace he is capable of.

I gave this a ‘7″ initially, but by today’s standards it is a solid “8.” Terrible promotional poster by the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 26, 2021

An Unexpected Christmas

Unexpectedly Overwrought

Jamie and Emily have broken up their long-term relationship. Jamie has headed home for Christmas in small-town Fulton, Illinois. Coincidentally, Emily is also heading there for work. They arrive at the terminal at the same time and Jamie’s family, who love Emily and haven’t been told of the break-up, are thrilled that Jamie has brought Emily home to spend Christmas. Emily needs a place to stay and Neither wants to ruin the family’s Christmas so they continue the deception that they are still together.

There were some good things and not-so-good things with this one.

The Good:
Bethany Joy Lenz and Tyler Hynes performances and their chemistry together. Bethany was very funny in the comedy parts and very touching in the emotional parts. Tyler Hynes performance made an essentially weak and troubling character tolerable.

The script had some unusual aspects and was witty.

The banter between Jamie and Emily was good.

Tyler’s new hairstyle.

The cameo walk-through blink and you might miss it of Bethany’s frequent co-star, Andrew Walker.

I like the scope big families provide in Hallmarks and this one had one.

The Bad:
That big family? They were so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o energetic, loud, and overbearing that it became exhausting.

Jamie’s character. He dumped Emily because she was more successful than him and he didn’t want to hold her back. OK. But his self-esteem problem was rooted in his need to be perfect in everything and vice versa. Even though we are told that his Grandfather also was a perfectionist, He grew up in a happy, stable, and supportive family. This debilitating complex did not seem to be founded on much. It also causes him to be afraid of being honest with his family about his break-up and why. BTW he never does get the backbone to be forthright about it. And he’s a liar.

Jamie’s struggles with writing the governor’s speech. He was unable to write a word. His paralysis (again, it had to be perfect) was like a big depressing specter over the whole movie.

The plot was all over the place. The Christmas play his sister directed was needless and was a distraction. Bethany’s project came to nothing. The lightening-bolt like lesson of the newlyweds’ rocks in the fountain was not used in the governor’s speech, or Emily’s theme for her project (what it was-I am unclear) the speech itself was short and lame. All that angst over THAT?

Some of the happenings were too silly. The Christmas play and the scene in the restaurant with the waiter. I don’t mind silly sometimes, but silliness is not comedy.

A lot of negatives were outweighed by the acting and appeal of the two leads, and strong production values. I did not approve of Jamie’s actions or inactions, but it did lend some depth and complexity to his character. I’m just not sure I want all those problems in a Hallmark hero.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 28, 2021

My Christmas Family Tree

Too Many Questions

**Spoilers**

Overall, this was a very good Hallmark. A young 30-year-old woman does a DNA test along with her best friend and discovers she has a paternity match. Her mother had died when she was 9 years old, and she never knew her father. She and her father decide to meet. The casting and the performances were excellent and the plot was compelling. First of all, there was no Hallmark Christmas set piece that wasn’t crammed in somewhere. I know some people enjoy the obligatory clumsy ice-skating scene and the gingerbread house making, etc. But I find them to be just filler most of the time: tedious and lazy. I’ve learned to live with them though.

There were several aspects, however, which took it down a notch or two for me. The idea that a DNA matching company would mix up the DNA results just because the two clients had the same name is way over the line. Did they also have the same birthdate? Same place of birth? Same social security number? And then according to the story, their desperate phone call to Vanessa was just another big oopsie, they were right the first time, and Vanessa really is Richard’s daughter? Not because of another phone call from the DNA company admitting their mistake, but just because he finally had the revelation that both “Patty” and “Trisha” are both nicknames for “Patricia.” OH, and he found a picture of the girlfriend in question and she bore a strong resemblance to Vanessa?

And what about that? So Richard had completely forgotten what his girlfriend looked like until he found her picture? A girl whom he was in love with, had meaningful sex with, and whom he had tried to find after he got back from his tour of duty? Whose picture he had kept in a box for 30 years? Because as soon as he saw Vanessa, wouldn’t the phrase, “you look just like your mother?” been uttered as soon as they met? Apparently, when he first met Vanessa, she didn’t even look vaguely familiar! What about the other Vanessa? Is she going to show up at some point? As another reviewer pointed out, didn’t Richard and the other Vanessa get the same phone call from the DNA folks that Vanessa got?

And how cruel to reveal that she wasn’t Richard’s daughter in front of the whole extended family. If she just couldn’t take it anymore, leave the room and ask to see Richard and Mrs. Richard privately so he could maintain some dignity. And so he could break the news gently to his young children. She is not twelve, she is thirty.

They should have had a “1 month later” where all these dangling loose ends were made palatable with some kind of explanation and closure, no matter how lame. I didn’t care about the romance, it was definitely secondary to the main story. The script gave Andrew Walker very little to work with.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 16, 2021

Snowed Inn Christmas

Sooooooooo Good!

With Bethany Joy Lenz and Andrew Walker taking the lead, how can it not be at least good? The popular duo play 2 journalist colleagues sent to Aspen to compete for top spot at their magazine. They both are “off” Christmas. Andrew, because he can’t bear to go home to his lovely family since his Dad died. Bethany, because her boyfriend just dumped her after looking forward to spending it with him and his family. They get stranded in Santa Claus, Indiana, at a B & B run by Mr. And Mrs. Winter with both trying to find a Christmas story there that will save their jobs. Rivalry leads to mutual appreciation, liking, then love, even though they are so different from each other.

Andrew’s character seems a little sneaky at first. But when he finds out Bethany was an unadopted orphan who made up her happy Christmas tradition stories, he takes her to his nearby home so she can have the family Christmas she has always dreamed of. It was sweet and touching and embodied the true spirit of Christmas.

Bethany realizes right away that there is something magical and mysterious going on with the B & B and the Winters. The fantasy is handled with wonder and without silliness thanks to Belinda Montgomery and John B. Lowe who play the couple and the excellent script. When she finds a photograph of the Winters dated 1842…Well. I will say no more, but she knows she has her story. If only she can find a certificate designating the Inn as a property of historical significance that will prevent its demolition. Yes, there is that going on as well.

The only quibble I had was when bad boyfriend showed up, she took way too long to dump him. The actors all shine in this one, with a special shout-out to Tasha Scott, a former Tyler Perry stand-out, who made the small part of their boss entertaining and special. The last short scene with “The Winters” is worth an extra star all by itself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 22, 2020

Bottled With Love

Bethany Bottles Charm

This is another take on You got Mail, which was a new take on In the Good Old Summertime, which was a new take on The Shop Around the Corner. That’s OK because it is a  sure-fire and enjoyable trope for a romantic comedy. Closed off  Abbey is disappointed in love again, and on the advice of her aunt pours out her heart in a letter which is found by Nick. He emails her and they start a correspondence. They really connect on a deep level.

Meanwhile, free-spirited Nick is summoned from his vagabond life by his father and sister who want him to temporarily help with the family corporation. Their star employee is none other than focused, efficient, no-nonsense workaholic Abbey who is paired up with Nick, who definitely marches to a different drummer. They strike sparks off of each other because they are so different, but as they get to know each other, they see the other’s value, and become attracted.

The pen pals finally agree to meet, but before that can happen, Nick realizes that his soulmate pen pal is none other than uptight Abbey. He freaks out and stands her up. She blocks him on email.

On a mission for the company, which is a whole other story, Abbey and Nick continue to bond and fall in love especially since Nick now knows Abbey’s business self is so different from her personal self. Nick finally confesses that he is her secret pen pal and humbly apologizes for not telling her sooner and crying off from their big date. Now here is where the Hallmark version differs from its predecessors. Instead of being thrilled that her pen pal soulmate is the same guy she is falling in love with in person, she gets mad! This is because the Hallmark formula demands a conflict and misunderstanding that has to be resolved in the last 20 minutes of the show. In addition to resolving the romance, Nick’s shaky career prospects are taken care of quite nicely as well.

Bethany Joy Lenz is a joy as always and she teams well with talented and attractive Andrew Walker. The scene where she blisses out over her beloved pancakes Nick surprises her with is delightful.  I just can’t say enough about Bethany Joy Lenz. She elevates every show she is in.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

October 15, 2021

Sweet Autumn

No Cliché Left Untouched

Soooooooooooo Boring. I’ll have to disagree with most of the reviewers here. I usually like Nikki Deloach and Andrew Walker. But Nikki had a weird hairdo and no opportunity to shine because of the dull script and Andrew was just meh in this one for the same reason. It all centers on the over-used-to-death plot of the successful woman’s having to return to her small town to run a business she inherited but has to share with a handsome man who she conflicts with. Lord, I almost fell asleep typing that. Throw in the obligatory festival and a frolic and there you have it. This one, however, is made worse by the dead aunt from whom she inherited the candy store (SWEET Autumn, get it?) reaching back from the grave by leaving cloying and hackneyed words of advice for the couple in order to bring them together. This was a lazy effort and unworthy of the talent.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

October 23, 2020