Love in Glacier National: A National Park Romance

Snow Job

This one left me cold. The plot was the usual boring and predictable with the added bonus of annoying characters (3), examples of lazy incomprehensible plot elements (2 main ones), and downright offensive stereotypes of women (2). It drove my rating below  5 stars, that is, not entertaining but tolerable, into 3 or 4-star territory (not entertaining plus something very very wrong here.) It had some beautiful mountain scenery if you do not mind it was not filmed in Glacier National Park or any National Park at all, or even in this country.  The title of this one would be the worst ever for a Hallmark even if it were filmed in Glacier National Park.

Heather is a world-renowned expert in snow and avalanches. She has a doctorate in the subject and has developed a technology that predicts them with proven accuracy. She accepts an invitation to visit an old friend’s ski resort and install the forecasting equipment. She brings her sister who has spent the last of her and her husband’s savings on IVF treatments to get pregnant. It has been very hard on them and she needs a break while waiting to find out whether this last treatment has worked. Heather meets handsome hunky Chris who is the head of the search and rescue team. He is not only a Luddite who eschews her science-based life-saving technology, he is downright offensive about it. He relies on looking at the weather and sniffing and tasting the snow to determine whether the ski runs are safe. No kidding. His whole team is open-minded and on board, but when he stumbles into her class he rudely stands at the threshold disruptively chewing on a donut, and then leaves. Nevertheless, he is a good father to his motherless young teen daughter Samantha.  That, combined with his hunky hotness is enough for Heather to fall for him despite his disrespect for her life’s work. Especially when he emerges shirtless from the sauna looking like the top half of every action figure ever made and just as plastic. The daughter is played by Amelie Wolf, the daughter of the director. She is a Hallmark regular kid actor and she is fine. Unfortunately, Heather has a rival in red-haired Sonya, a shallow catty jealous massage therapist. She is so unprofessional that when she sees the sparks between Chris and Heather she tries to hurt Heather on the massage table. Sonya is the worst stereotype of a man-hungry desperate female (see paragraph 1) She even comes to his cabin at night to seduce him with his daughter practically in the same room. Amusingly, Samantha calls her on putting lipstick on before she goes to bed. Heather’s sister is similarly enamored by Chris’s hotness swooning and drooling all over him on her sister’s behalf because she needs a man to be happy. (Offensive stereotype #2.)

That takes care of the annoying characters. There were two plot points that were needlessly mishandled. The first was fairly minor. When Sonya shows up at a party where Chris and Heather are dancing, she is told off by his daughter in the one entertaining scene in the movie. She stops Sonya in her tracks. “My dad is with someone smart who chooses Chapstick over lip plumper. Now is not the best time.” Sonya retorts by telling her that she has some things to “talk over” with her dad which comes across as a veiled threat. I was sure curious!  But she leaves the party and the whole thing is just dropped. We never see her again. The more egregious one involves the suspense of whether the sister’s IVF, her last, has finally worked. [SPOILER ALERT] She finally gets up the nerve to take the pregnancy test while Heather is at the party. Tragically it is negative and she looks devastated. But the next morning, all is well and we have a scene where she and Chris’s daughter are yucking it up in a hot tub and jumping out to make snow angels in their bathing suits giggling uncontrollably. She doesn’t even tell her sister the I guess not so devastating news after all, and her sister doesn’t care enough to ask. Again, the whole thing is just left hanging never to be referred to again. Both loose ends could have been easily fixed with a quick edit or two. That they just left it is lazy and contemptuous of their viewers.

Despite her great relationship with his daughter and her attraction to Chris, Heather can not handle his disrespect and his refusal to even consider being open to using her technology as a tool. She pleads with him to trust her and hits him with argument after argument but nothing doing. She is strong and persistent but he won’t even explain himself.  To his surprise and disbelief (!), she walks out on him. This guy. It is only when her method saves his life, the lives of his team, and an injured skier that he admits he was wrong and apologizes.  That’s what it takes. But not before he checks with a male colleague who went to Heather’s training sessions first. What a prize.

The music was annoying and weird. The only other plus besides the scenery and Samantha’s takedown of Red Sonya was that Heather only brought 2 coats. You would have to be a Hallmark regular to understand how ground-breaking this is.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

Small Town Christmas

Oldie but Goodie

I reached back in time this season to re-watch a 2018 Christmas movie that I really enjoyed but didn’t review. This stars my favorite leading man, Kristoffer Polaha, and Ashley Newbrough, not a favorite but very good. I have no problems with her.

Ashley plays a successful author who is booked to do some events in the small town on which she based her best-selling book. A few years ago she was great friends with a co-worker who used to regale her with stories set in his hometown. On the verge of becoming romantically involved, he ghosted her, leaving her alone in a restaurant waiting for him to show up for their first real date. She called and texted over and over but he never replied and has never been in touch. She is nervous about visiting his home town and she has a right to be because not only is he living there but he owns the quirky local bookstore and is the liaison organizing the promotional events for her new book.

He is thrilled to see her again, basically acting like nothing happened and he did nothing wrong. He is now the guardian of his niece, the adorable Bailey Skodje. It turns out that on the night of their date he received word that his sister and her husband were killed in an auto accident. Now that is pretty awful and tragic, but it still is no excuse for his behavior of disappearing off the face of the earth without a word. But Ashley is forgiving considering the circumstances and they proceed to fall back in love.

The secondary plot is that of a property developer that Ashley got friendly with wanting to “revitalize” the town. Sound good, but when he wants all of the shop owners to sell their stores to him for obscene amounts of money, Kris gets suspicious.  He refuses to sell until he learns that the whole deal is kaput unless the developer can buy all the businesses including his. So in the name of helping his friends and colleagues who need the money, he agrees reluctantly to sell.  Imagine the shock when they find out, thanks to Ashley, that instead of revitalizing the town, he wants to demolish it and put up a big resort! What is a lying sneaky snake! And he seemed so nice! What is refreshing about this, is that the money men like the little town just the way it is. And his petard is hoisted. The rich investors are even going to invest in the town as is while keeping its charming picturesque feel. Towards the end, Ashley finds out that Kris actually wrote her a letter explaining what happened in his life, but he sent it to their old workplace and by that time she had already quit so she never got it. So he had been wondering why she never replied to him. Still no excuse for no phone call or quick text reply, but whatever. The mystery of his behavior which had been an ongoing puzzle is finally solved.

Kristoffer Polaha is such a charmer in this. He is full of energy and his acting was nuanced, low-key, and natural as always. He adds thoughtful touches to his delivery. For example towards the end when he was very turned off by Brad and his slick behavior, he started saying his name like he was saying “Yuck”. Bra-a-d (grimace, cringe-but subtle!) He plays such a sweet guy in this that it made it very funny somehow. I also liked that though he disliked and was jealous of Brad, he just studiously ignored him rather than acting all pouty and hostile. His chemistry with Ashley Newbrough was terrific. Although, in my view, it’s Kristoffer Polaha so he probably would have chemistry with a bag of doorknobs. This one is 4 years old, but it will play again at least one more time before Christmas is over. I highly recommend you check it out if you have the time.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Christmas for Keeps

Keeping it Real

This was a top-tier Hallmark presentation on par with the best of this year’s Christmas chronicles. And there have been some great ones in 2021. It was almost like a real movie in that it wasn’t just a string of set-pieces held together by clichés. 5 high school friends, 3 still local, get together to honor their recently deceased drama teacher who had an impact on all of their lives. We follow the five friends’ stories as they each deal with their individual challenges while thinking back on their teacher’s past advice. The flashbacks to their high school drama class were superfluous and the teacher’s wisdom was nothing but platitudes but I was very engaged by three of the individual journeys and fairly interested in the other two.

Avery is the one who pushes the four friends to reconnect while patiently and persistently battling their indifference or excuses. She is teaching psychology at the University of Michigan but wants to open her own practice there. Her mother is very overbearing and controlling, but Avery lives her own life in spite of that. She is not a wimp, but she wants her mother to stop. Her mother wants her to keep teaching and move back closer to their Virginia town. She is dead set against Avery opening her own practice. To that end, she actually sends Avery’s resume to the U of V behind her back which results in an awkward convo with the head of HR. Avery is furious and stands up to her mother, who still doesn’t get it (she is actually proud of herself). Her behavior threatens to lead to permanent estrangement. The wise father intervenes and reminds his wife how she was treated by her own mother, who insisted on her way or the highway and how that made her feel. She finally gets it. Don’t ask me why he didn’t speak to his wife 10 years ago. She apologizes to her daughter. ” I guess I learned that love was control and I am learning now that you can’t have both love and control. You have to pick one, and I choose love.” It was a great scene.

Avery is in love with Ben, who is struggling in his business and his personal life. He has pushed away all of his friends and his brother. He has a lot of rage, and we don’t find out what the source of that rage is that makes him act like a petulant toddler throughout most of the movie. When we finally do, it is underwhelming. I didn’t like or sympathize with him at all.

The other story I loved is about the two childhood sweethearts who married each other. The wife is trying to complete her hospital residency so she can take over her father’s medical practice. While she is doing that, her very wonderful husband is a stay-at-home Dad to their two kids and takes care of the house (which is quite the MacMansion considering the family’s lack of income.) She is busy busy busy, but also has a lot of guilt that, understandably, the children are closer to their Dad than her. This was a very adult, realistic story. The Dad loves to bake and when he is encouraged to start a business by the 5th friend, Mia, he is a little reluctant, but is kind of excited too, and goes along with it. His wife finds out and gets angry that he didn’t consult her first and everyone knows but her. “We are leading separate lives”. However, they love each other, the marriage is solid, and she has been making an effort to get away from the hospital to reconnect with her old schoolmates. And her husband. She turns around very quickly which may or may not have something to do with her taking care of the kids by herself for 4 hours. She also probably realizes that without her husband, she would be in a major pickle. Her apology speech to her treasure of a husband was really something.

Mia is a struggling actress who unbeknownst to her friends, is not making it in the big city. Her story was not as interesting and it is tidily resolved at the end. It was one story too many. There was one aspect to her story that was a bit disturbing if I interpreted what was going on correctly.

Most of the characters, even the secondary ones, were not cardboard cutouts. They were layered with both strengths and weaknesses. The movie was well structured with everyone having their beginning, middle, and end. It was a real winner with nice acting from all and great direction and writing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

December 20, 2021

Christmas Love Letter

On Board for the Cuckoo Train?

Although the basic plot of this offering is pretty standard stuff, the peculiar choices made in some of the plot points push this into bizarro territory fast and doesn’t let up. First, our heroine breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, after his slap-worthy proposal (seriously dude!). She goes back to the office where she finds an anonymous love letter from a guy she apparently spent a memorable Christmas with except she can’t remember it. She pivots at lightening speed into pursuing love with this mystery man by going back to her tiny small town to solve the mystery.

Her first step is to go to a local woodsy park to uncover a huge treasure chest she apparently stores there containing her personal photos and diary so she can refresh her memory. Seriously, she brushes the snow off the chest, which is seemingly unmolested by curious passersby or the elements, and digs right in. This is a major step onto planet weird. But not the last.

She has two hilarious encounters with the first two former boyfriends/suspects. With the first one, she interrogates him about the love letter, but she does it in front of his fiancé! It was not pretty, but it was pretty funny. The second guy is a total freak-show who is obsessed with puns about his fish obsession and who laughs like a donkey. This was comic gold. Gold, I tell you! Until you think about it a bit. How could she ever have even spent a minute with this lunatic let alone had a serious romantic relationship with him? Not to mention he is about a foot shorter than she is.

Meanwhile, the true letter-writer, who is a childhood buddy, is following her around. He is a widower and father of possibly the most annoying child in TV Christmas movie history. In order to explain the little girl’s off the wall behavior the writers apparently have inserted the information that she is an eccentric “genius.” Daddy has been devotedly in love with our heroine even throughout his marriage. Fortunately the woman is now dead, unmourned and forgotten by both her husband and her genius child. To make this love interest even more attractive as potential husband material, he has invented a mechanical dog that looks, feels, sounds, and acts like a real dog. It steals the show. Seriously, I couldn’t look away.

I could go on and on. Our heroine has bona fide psychological issues when it comes to her love life, plus an identity crisis. Seriously, a psychologist would have a field day. By the end, she learns nothing, and develops past her challenges in no way. She ends up with the “right” guy for no reason. The happy ending rests on her doubling down on her disturbing neuroses. I will kindly leave her buying almost a hundred cups of hot cocoa in one sitting, her father’s debts, her falling for an evil dirtbag, and the reappearance of her dumber than a bag of hair ex-boyfriend mercifully by the wayside.

There were some genuine laugh out loud moments and a few were intentional. Ashley Newbrough was fine as an actress, and so was Tilkey Jones as the love struck widower/inventor. Chante Bowser was a star as her normal, sane, and smart as a whip best friend. I blame the writers and the director for this jaw-droppingly eccentric Christmas Catastrophe.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

December 5, 2020