A Kismet Christmas

Kismet Kookies

Anyone who looks at Hallmark movies or their copycats to any great degree gets used to questionable plot points, plot holes, and many opportunities to suspend disbelief. But this one had more than the usual problems you just have to ignore and move past. Going in, I was hopeful and curious to see Sarah Ramos, because I remember her as Lauren Graham’s daughter on Parenthood. Carlo Marks usually gives a likable performance.

Sarah is a prominent children’s author who has to return to her hometown to reward the winner of a contest promoting her new book. Of course, as is required of fictional Hallmark authors, she is suffering from writer’s block and is having trouble finishing it.  It turns out the little winner is the daughter of Travis the boy next door she had a teenage crush on and had been avoiding for over 10 years. After humiliating herself by bursting into his wedding and declaring her love, she has never returned home because of the bad memories. Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing. But why did Travis even answer the door in the middle of his vows? Was this lout raised by wolves? And how did Sarah not know her friend and next-door neighbor was getting married?

Here’s the second problem. Her beloved grandmother Mia (Marilu Henner) still lives in the house across the street. Are they telling me Sarah never visited Grandma Mia when she is supposed to be so devoted to her? 10 years of phone calls, emails, and Hallmark Cards, I guess.

She meets Travis because he lives in his parents’ old house now and gets to know his little girl,(who hugs everyone all the time. I’ve never seen such a huggy little girl) and a rekindled romance ensues. But where is the wife? Is she dead? Divorced? On vacation? I was expecting her to pop up any minute. We find out after a great deal of flirting has been going on that they are divorced and she travels with her band a lot. Whew!

And why did grammy stop making the beloved Christmas cookies again? She taped up the recipe after Sarah ripped it up. Sarah finds it hidden away behind a wall, and she goes ahead and whips up a batch of 12 cookies. These cookies have been missed greatly by the community because they have the magical power of revealing your true love in a dream.(this is what got Sarah into all that trouble)  Yet, we are told there was a line out the door for them. How could there have been “a line out the door” for  12 cookies, especially when at least 4 were already given away?

As usual, there was an unnecessary conflict at the end which was more fake than usual and made no sense. She runs away when Travis suggests that she stay in New Britain to explore their relationship and buy Grammy’s house. Why? After she has a convo with Benny, her agent, in which nothing she didn’t already know is imparted, she changes her mind. She also realizes that the cookies really are magic because she and Travis now love each other as adults and, Yay! He is now single.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

October 27, 2022

Christmas With the Darlings

A Darling Family Story

I really liked this Hallmark movie when it first came out in 2020 but never reviewed it. With the Hallmark assembly line of new movies slowing to a crawl, I’m reaching back to some past favorites that I can re-watch without pain or boredom and review. Christmas with the Darlings focuses on family dynamics and the struggle of a younger son to escape from his irresponsible past and become a full-fledged contributor to his family and the family business.

An excellent script is bolstered by a great cast led by Katrina Law, Carlo Marks, and a personal favorite Steve Bacic. Steve (Charles) learns that his late middle brother’s three orphaned children can no longer stay with their relatives in Australia and their guardianship has fallen to him and his irresponsible youngest brother, Max. Unfortunately, he is leaving on a lengthy trip abroad for business so he sees no other alternative, given the flighty partying nature of little brother Max, to put them in a boarding school over Christmas. Fortunately, he has a long-time personal assistant in Katrina Law (Jess) who is not having it. She will soon be leaving her current role to be a lawyer in the corporation and convinces Charles to let her devote her last vacation to taking care of the kids for the Christmas season and showing the 3 orphans a good time. As Steve leaves the country, I reluctantly had to swallow that he was not the love interest. Boo Hoo. Oh well. Max steps up to the plate and Jess soon learns that there is more to Max the goofball than meets the eye. He has done a lot of maturing when no one was paying attention. The kids love both him and Jess. Max has always had a crush on Jess but thought he wasn’t good enough for her. (And he would have been right.) Now Jess is returning his feelings. When Charles comes home he has the opportunity to see Max’s hidden depths, especially since both he and Jess are responsible for wowing a potential client with their family-centric old-fashioned Christmas party instead of the sophisticated affair that he had originally planned. Unfortunately, Max has done too good a job at proving himself because Charles makes him the liaison of the Taiwan division which means he will be separated from Jess and the Children. (Don’t worry, (as if) he doesn’t get on the plane but still has a good future with the company and with Jess) This one could really use a sequel, unlike so many Hallmark sequels that should never have been.

I was initially disappointed that Steve Bacic was not the main man, but he really made the most of his role as the tough brother and boss, but who really wanted to do the right thing for the children. He was a good man as well as a great and successful businessman. His priorities were just temporarily out of whack. Carlo really won me over as the love interest. He conveyed his yearning for Jess, his love for the children, his regret at disappointing his family in the past, and the conflict of wanting to make his brother proud, but sadness of having to leave Jess and the kids. And the kids were great too. They each had their own personality(!).

It is worth noting That this was one of the first of the Hallmark Christmas offerings to include a gay romance, however secondary it was. Jess’s best friend Zoe, a shy surgeon, has a crush on a bartender, Kate, that we see is definitely returned. Not a lot is made of it but it is unapologetically there and very sweet. Later in this 2020 season, a gay couple is featured prominently as a main couple.  That movie incurred all kinds of wrath and bitterness (and happy support and praise.) This one was like, “Let’s put this one in there and get people used to it one step at a time. By the end of the season, they won’t even know what hit em’.” Well, people did notice and many were not amused. Reviewing this halfway through 2022, I am proud of Hallmark. They deserve a lot of credit for doubling down on all kinds of diversity despite boycotts and even a rival “family-friendly” network starting up and wooing away some of their top stars. They have not backed down, and I even see by the previews that they are premiering a black-centric (is that a word?) series of movies called “Mahogany” this August on their Murders and Mysteries. So, “Yay,” Hallmark and “yay” Christmas in July.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

July 6, 2022

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

Making Spirits Bright

Nicely Done

This was a very sweet story with a lot of charm. Even though this was pretty low-key, it kept my interest throughout. Taylor Cole and Carlo Marks were excellent together. I’ve not always liked Taylor Cole, but she really came through as a small-town family-oriented girl, which is not a part one would usually associate with her. I don’t think I’ve seen a Christmas movie based on the business of decorating houses for Christmas. So although the Romeo and Juliet outline was pretty standard stuff, the background it is set against is unusual.

Grace and Tony are the offspring of two fathers who have been feuding for years. They were once close friends and partners in a Christmas decorating business but their differing work styles drove them apart. Tony’s father is a perfectionist which has caused him to miss deadlines and not get the job done. He puts art above money. Grace’s father is into efficiency and making a profit. They both enter the town’s Christmas decorating contest as competitors. However, in an effort to defeat a mutual enemy who emphasizes technology over heart and tradition,  they end up trying to work together.

There are some genuinely touching moments in this and romance is sweet, thanks to the chemistry between the two leads. The Romeo and Juliet romance is appealing as they go from uncertainty to friendship and then love. I loved the relationship of the two mothers, who have remained secret friends throughout their husbands’ feud. Also adding an interesting dynamic was the fraught relationship between Grace and her partner in their home-staging business.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 1, 2021