The Gift of Peace

There is Hope

Although at the end of this movie, there is hope and expectation that the two leads, Brennan Eliot and Nikki Deloach will have a future together, this is not a romance. There is not even a kiss at the end. Good call. It is about how grieving people start healing and find a path forward out of darkness. When we first see Nikki she is struggling in her artist studio. She is very sad and has lost love for her art and inspiration. It has been two years since her beloved husband and creative partner died and she is still struggling. The story is told partially in flashbacks and we learn that she and her husband were committed Christians. When her good friend and manager reminds her of her annual Christmas art exhibition that she skipped last year due to her grief she knows she has to produce this year. She is finally persuaded to go to a grief support group at her old church. But as soon as they bow their heads in prayer, she gets up and leaves. Nikki Deloach was fantastic in this. You can feel her every emotion with every twitch, blink, gesture, and look. She finally tries again and her journey begins in earnest. Brennan Eliot as the kind-hearted leader of the group who is not as together as he seems is also excellent. All of the members’ stories are told and well integrated into the central plot in a very balanced and smooth way. They are all very involving, if not as heartbreaking as Nikki’s. We wonder why Brennan, who has also lost someone, does not open up and share along with the others.

We know from the flashbacks about her and her late husband’s strong Christian faith and mutual love. When she finally shares her story with the group, we learn her husband died from a brain tumor. While he was in the hospital, she was strong. It is she who comforts the others. When she tells the doctors that she knows he will be OK because she has been praying for him along with her whole community, it is heartbreaking. You can hear the calm confidence in her voice, but see the slight worry and panic in her eyes. When her husband dies, despite her prayers, she loses her faith and is full of rage.

I won’t detail her path back to believing in God and prayer, but it seemed very authentic. I will say that it involves sharing and helping others. This could be called a Christian movie, but though unapologetic, it is not heavy-handed. Unlike the Candace Cameron Bure movie on GAF (which I couldn’t resist checking out.) I didn’t feel like I was being sold to or taught at. It just seemed like this is the personal story of one woman’s grief and how her love of painting and her faith was restored. Take from it what you will.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Marry Go Round

Round the Bend

This is the surprise surprise still married to old husband trope. It’s tried and true, but unfortunately, I did not like the behavior of the old husband and really liked the new fiance who was eventually and inevitably dumped. Needless to say this negatively impacted my enjoyment of this movie.

Amanda Shull was excellent and sympathetic as the successful marketing executive who is soon to be married and moving to Paris.  And Brennan Elliot, her leading man, has some quirks, but in general, is still a favorite of mine. Top 10, anyway ( used to be top 5). But the character he plays is a bad guy hiding behind a nice guy smiley facade.

When preparing for her marriage and the move to Paris, Amanda finds out that due to some paperwork snafu, she is still married to her old high school boyfriend whom she hasn’t seen or heard from in 20 years. When she goes back to her hometown to straighten this out she meets him in court and he won’t sign the divorce papers. He needs time to “digest” this. “It’s not chicken salad! There’s nothing to digest” She cries. Amen Sister! The guy broke his marriage vows and abandoned her and their marriage and moved over 4000 miles away where he couldn’t be found like a coward. No discussion, no explanation, no goodbye except a note left on her pillow. **spoiler alert*** He let himself be bullied by her awful mother into deserting her because her acceptance letter from Princeton came in the mail. What. So no married person ever went to college? They did not discuss the possibility of her acceptance before they got married? Letters of acceptance from Princeton just don’t come in the mail without a lengthy application process.  Besides treating his bride as a child with no agency in the marriage by abandoning her, he doesn’t contact her for 20 years. Not a peep. And this isn’t some strangers in the night, they got married in a fever situation. They had been friends since childhood. Amanda was devastated and emotionally and psychologically crippled for years because of his cruelty. But once she has recovered and is happily engaged, he wants to derail her life again.

With the exception of Sweet Home Alabama, this trope usually only works if the other woman/man is a jerk and the heroine/hero doesn’t love him. But Amanda and Edward, her fiance, profess their love throughout the movie. And Edward is not a jerk. He is a demonstrably better man than the hero.

Amanda is not blameless in this fiasco, by the way. Needless to say, Brennan Elliot wheedles and manipulates her until her heart starts to soften. Isn’t there some sort of guy-rule about not making the moves on an engaged woman? Well, someone forgot to tell Brennan. But we already know he couldn’t care less about promises and marital commitment, so no surprise, I guess.  When the strong mature, wise, patient, and loving Edward shows up, Brennan scurries away. Now that he has all but won her over to giving him another chance, he starts playing hard to get. Or maybe he has either developed a conscience or at least a sense of shame? Nothing so profound. He was just embarrassed, and probably scared of Edward punching him in the nose. No such luck.

Before the “happy ending” Edward releases her to find her happiness with her still husband. He lets her go (face to face, unlike Brennan) saying “I deserve your whole heart.” Not only is he the better man, but he is eloquent too. I appreciate that Hallmark didn’t follow the usual template of making the new man a weasel, but they did too good a job of not making him a weasel and on top of that they made the so-called hero the weasel.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

September 15, 2022

A Christmas Melody

Coffee, Close-Ups, and Costumes

This Mariah Carey-directed vehicle is semi-notorious for its unintentionally funny softly filtered close-ups of Carey’s face and the jaw-dropping product placements of Folgers Classic Roast Coffee. But beyond that, it is an above-average Hallmark Christmas romance.

Dress designer and single mother Kristin Parson returns to her Ohio hometown right before Christmas after her boutique in Los Angeles fails. On her way out the door for the final time, she gives her framed first 5 dollars she ever made to a white-bearded beggar on the street. Ahem. Welcomed back to Silver Falls by her Aunt, played by the lovable Kathy Najimy, Lacey settles right in with her whiny and sulky-about-moving daughter, ably played by young Fina Strazza. Determined to win her daughter over to small-town life, Lacey sets about getting her talented daughter a place in the Christmas pageant. This is where Mariah Carey rears her almost always disembodied head to provide some conflict and trouble for Lacey to triumph over. Mariah is head of the PTA, in charge of the show, and hates Lacey for an undisclosed reason. And nope, auditions are closed. This is where the other lead, Brennan Elliot comes in. He is the music teacher who had a high school teenage crush on Lacey and gets her singer/dancer/ poet/ songwriter daughter into the show. Lacey and Brendan have great rapport and always work well together.

Everything is going along fine with Lacey saving the show with her talented costume making, her daughter settling into school and making friends with the help of a mysterious white-bearded janitor, ahem, and romance blossoming with the lovestruck Brennan. And then, one night, her former assistant shows up with the news that Lacey has been offered a job in L.A. designing her own line of clothes for a department store chain. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how this all ends. Spoiler alert: Lacey vanquishes Mariah by killing her with kindness and her daughter steals the show with a surprisingly entertaining solo performance complete with backup singers a la Love Actually. Song by Mariah Carey. Oh weird. Love Actually’s tour de force climatic singing performance at the school pageant was a rendition of a song by Mariah Carey. Hmmm.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Perfect Pairing

“I’m the Bad Guy!”


This was a very well-constructed story about the danger of being too rigid and the importance of second chances. We learn almost from almost the first scene that Our Heroine is very flawed and know right away that she has lessons to learn and a personal journey to go on in order to become a better person. It is a measure of the actress Nazneen Contractor’s skill and appeal that I didn’t hate her or feel hostile to her. (Unlike with 2 recent hallmark movies in December starring the same actress playing women who also had lessons to learn. I’m looking at you, Jen Lilley.)

Christina Joy Osbourne is a restaurant and wine critic. She is harsh, negative,  demanding, bossy, and rigid. These traits are symbolized at the beginning by her too-high spikey heels and being a bad baker. Her mother tells her she doesn’t always have to follow the recipe to the letter and needs to be more creative and flexible. (This was actually a bad metaphor because, in baking, you actually do have to follow the recipe. But we get the idea.) Her relationship with her almost-fiance is negatively affected by her personality, and we quickly learn that it also caused her writing partner to go solo as well. A writing partner whose fair and balanced “glass half full” approach has pushed her to the top of the wine critic world. We also learned that our heroine has brought a family winery to the brink of ruin by a harsh unfair review and her refusal to give them a second chance. The stage is set.

Christine is assigned to attend a wine festival and in a twist of fate winds up on the doorstep, without her phone or purse, of the family winery she almost ruined. When she learns her mistake, in her haste to get away, she slips on the ice with her spiked heels, hits her head, and gets amnesia. Brennan Elliot and his family kindly invite “Joy” to stay the “3 to 7 days” it will take to get her memory back. Brennan is kind of adorable in this despite his 47 years and the chemistry between the two leads is excellent. Needless to say, she undergoes a sea change without her memory and regains her former happy, fun, kind, easy-going self. This is symbolized by her newfound success in baking and her new comfy shoes. Brennan and Nazneen fall in love.

While on a trip into town, she runs into her old writing partner who tells her who she is. She is horrified as Brennan and family have made no secret of how they justifiably feel about the destructive C. J. Osburne. All proceeds according to the Hallmark planogram. She keeps her Identity a secret, they find out anyway (in a real holy crap moment.) Lots of anger, then forgiveness as “Joy” makes up for her past unprofessional behavior in spectacular fashion and a winery and romantic relationship is saved.

Despite its by the book following of the Hallmark amnesia script bible, I did enjoy this. I liked that Christina had really gotten off track with her attitude, but that we didn’t hate her and could see she was a good person at heart. I liked the touchstones along the way of Spiked heels vs. Comfy shoes, and the baking metaphor for her personality change. As “Joy” she encourages Brennan’s daughter to go with the pink dress she loves even though it doesn’t suit her color palate according to the “rules”. The ice wine background was interesting and educational. Brennan is developing an ice wine to save the winery against his father’s wishes as it is a risky endeavor that he previously failed at. Ice wine was discovered due to a “happy accident” of ruined frozen grapes in 19th c. Germany which were given a second chance. Much like Christina is frozen in her outlook on life and her fall on the ice that caused her amnesia was also a “happy accident.” She should have given the winery a second chance since their submission was bad due to a fluke, just as Dad needs to give Ice wine a second chance. Both Brennan and her old partner give C.J. a second chance. All the little threads came together to fall in with the themes of the story thanks to a very mindful well thought out script. I appreciated the attention to detail.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 17, 2022

Love You Like Christmas


Bonnie Sommerville plays a big city marketing executive whose star client is getting married and she feels obligated to goto the wedding. On the way to the wedding, her progress is halted by a load of Christmas Trees that have fallen off a truck and blocked the highway. She has some banter with the owner of the truck (Brennan Elliot). She ends up driving her vintage Mustang onto the shoulder to bypass the accident which damages her car. She totally breaks down near Christmas Valley and meets the Christmas Tree Man again. Yes, it is meant to be. Business in the town is floundering due to a recent flood. Bonnie puts her marketing acumen to work and saves the town, including Brennan’s Christmas Tree farm. But her Big City career and life beckon.

As usual, during the Christmas Movie season, I’ll circle back to a movie I rated when it first came out but don’t really remember and watch it again. This one had Brennan and Bonnie, two favorites of mine (especially Bonnie), so I deemed it worth a re-watch. Also, it is a 2016 production which was before the tsunami of Hallmark Christmas movies produced in November and December which started in 2018, and the resulting emphasis on quantity over quality. And that does not include repeats like this one and all the other networks which now vie for our Christmas Movie attention. Not including the streaming services either.

Why I gave this a 4 originally, I don’t know. I must have been in a really bad mood. Also as usual, with a re-look at this after a couple of years, I’m upping my rating. This was sweet and harmless with likable leads and secondary characters. Bonnie Sommerville imbued the character with poignancy and likability. I’m upping my rating to a 7.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 17, 2021

Open by Christmas


Once again, Hallmark is raising the bar, as this entry in the Hallmark Christmas movie sweepstakes demonstrates. Although many of their new movies follow the usual pattern, many have not. This one, for example, features a dual storyline of two best friends who have separate and different challenges to overcome. It leaves the well-worn and predictable path in some refreshing ways.

Simone is getting ready to marry her fiance during the Christmas season. She is conflicted because her 15-year-old son is growing up and, she thinks, away from her. He is bonding too almost too well with her fiance! Both of them spend more time with each other than with her.  In response, she becomes clingy and tense. To add to the strained atmosphere, her future mother-in-law will be visiting and she doesn’t like her, thinking her too critical.

Her friend, Nicky, played by Alison Sweeney who is wonderful in this, is coming home for Christmas. Right away, this one got my attention. When her parents tell her fearfully that they are selling her childhood home, instead of weeping and wailing and trying to “save” it, she is all for it! Hallmark indulging in a little inside self-deprecating humor?  Anyway, Nicky is a confirmed single woman who finds an anonymous Christmas love letter that was written to her when she was in high school. Nicky always felt she was an outsider during her high school years and thinks of those years with embarrassment and regret. In part, it is why she has remained single. She has been afraid of rejection and never put herself “out there.” The letter shows her that maybe she was mistaken in her perspective. The two friends go on a mission to find the letter writer, and Nicky learns that most of her classmates admired and liked her and her impact was positive.

Brennan Elliot, playing against type as an awkward, shy, and a little too eager real-estate agent plays Nicky’s love interest. He was very winning in this role and the two have super chemistry. Lacey Chabert should be jealous. It is telegraphed right away that he is the letter writer. I will not go further into the plot as it is complex and many-layered and this review would be very long. What made it great was the unexpected ways things developed. The two friends do not pander to each other and tell each other the truth no matter how unpleasant. “Be a normal person!” They get genuinely hurt by upset and with each other but in the way of true friends do not let things fester. The mother-in-law is set up to be over-critical and unpleasant. They do clash, but she ends up being supportive and gives Simone good advice. There was an interesting shocker when it is revealed that Jeremy, Simone’s fiance is the one who wrote Nicky the love letter! What?! Wait!

 It was heartwarming. It was suspenseful.  It had some important lessons to impart.  It was humorous. “Nothing says “Christmas” like a tamale!” And best of all, there was no meaningless Christmas filler. Every scene was important and advanced the plot. There were a couple of things I could be snarky about but I won’t.  It was fantastic.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 21, 2021

The Crossword Mysteries: Abracadaver

I Came Here to Solve a Mystery

I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t remember watching this movie, because I know I would not have missed it. I really like the Crossword Mystery series and have it set up to record on the DVR. After relentless promotion, the movie never aired. Well now I know I’m not crazy. What the what Hallmark? ***finally saw it, after a 3 month delay.*** This installment was a disappointment although, in general, I think the Crossword series is going to be my favorite mystery series by Hallmark. Brennan Elliot’s investigative skills leave a lot to be desired. They consist of asking everyone in sight, “did you see anything unusual/out of the ordinary/strange?” Lacey Chabert is really starting to get on my nerves with her little “Heh-Heh” giggle after what seems like every other line she delivers.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 27, 2019

All Summer Long

A Wisp of a Plot with all of the Cookie Cutter Elements of the Typical Hallmance

This lame effort is saved by the appeal and the talents of the two stars, Autumn Reeser and Brennan Elliot. As always, their superior acting skills saved the day. They are very engaging with whomever they are paired with and it’s about time they were paired together. I was not disappointed. I just wish they had been given a better vehicle worthy of their talents. And I’ve got to say that “Admiral” character gave me the creeps for some reason. Also, a shout out to Christopher Russell, who played the romantic rival for Autumn’s affection. He was her leading man in one of my very favorite Hallmark Romances, Midnight Masquerade.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 27, 2019

All of my Heart: Inn Love

Bring on Part III!

All of my Heart is one of my top five Hallmark romances (although I apparently never wrote a review for it) thanks to the performances of Lacey Chabert, the very intriguing secondary characters ( Tommy, the goats, even Casey), and the brilliant comic stylings of Brennan Eliot. Just kidding, but seriously, he was really good!) The two leads had great chemistry and the script built the romance with just the right amount of humor, conflict, and relationship building. There were enough loose ends to make a sequel something I very much looked forward to. (Unlike 2 other totally unnecessary sequels that leap to mind.) I especially was interested in more about Tommy. AoMH: Inn love was not a disappointment, I am happy to say. Lacey was as reliable as ever, and I still loved Brennan Eliot’s character and his way with a line. As the two struggled to get their B & B up and running they met with more than their share of setbacks and expenses they could not afford. Brian’s return to Wall Street to make money kept my interest. Predictably, this created the main conflict as the two protagonists felt themselves growing apart. Of course, this was inevitable, but Lacey’s passive-aggressive sulking and pouting were a little hard to understand, considering the circumstances, and kind of made me hate her for a bit. There was more Tommy in the story, and I like the other side stories of the B&B blogger who was unexpectedly defanged and the other guests. Yes, I can see another sequel on the horizon and I will be front and center. Some advice: Tommy needs to move on from his current love interest and needs to go back to the taciturn mysterious guy he was in the first one. It needs to be more about him next time, and Casey as well. **8 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

October 12, 2017