The Dog Lover’s Guide to Dating

Bad Doggy!

Based on the lively previews, I was looking forward to this first Hallmark offering of 2023. I’m sorry to say that it was very disappointing. Especially considering the sometimes stellar parade of Christmas movies. The first scene with a dog getting away from Corey Sevier and creating havoc among picnickers in a park was entertaining and amusing, but it went downhill from there. Plot and character-wise, it ended up dull and mediocre throughout, although the script had some semi-clever lines, occasionally.

Corey Sevier plays an advertising guy who is trying to get together with a beautiful model turned designer, We know she is meant to be shallow and “not worthy”  by her valley girl inflections and vocal fry. Her dog is a hindrance to the insipient romance as he is badly behaved and doesn’t like Corey. After Corey is rescued by our dog-trainer heroine from the ruckus in the park, he hires her to train the dog or help him train the dog, or train him to handle the dog, or something.

I didn’t like her. Her character has been stunted by her father’s abandonment of her and her sister when they were young girls. She refuses to be open to a relationship with a human man because of course she expects every man to be unreliable and to abandon her as her father did. Instead, she showers all her love on her dog while still acting flirty with the two main men. Dogs are famously loyal and reliable, as we are reminded throughout. We know this girl needs therapy when in the first scene we see her fixing an elaborate breakfast complete with a cheese omelet, bacon, hashbrowns, fresh sliced tomatoes, and garnished with parsley. For her dog. Meanwhile, she eats a power bar. I guess this was supposed to be cute and endearing but to me, it just came across as silly, stupid, and very unhealthy for her pet. This wasn’t just a treat. This is every morning. And from someone who either should have known better or just doesn’t care. Despite her likable and sensible sister’s advice and counseling, she remains stuck throughout the whole movie, causing her to be very annoying. There was no growth. She just finally listens to her sister and changes her mind at the end. The actress was a fresh face and had talent. She even kind of had a Julia Roberts thing going on with her hair down. It wasn’t her fault.

Besides my dislike of the heroine, I found Corey Sevier’s performance in this one a little off as well. Can’t quite put my finger on it, I have liked him in the past and he did have a couple of good scenes in this. I found the vet who was his rival for the dog trainer’s affections a little creepy and vaguely sinister. The subplot of “save the dog shelter” is the excuse for Corey and dog girl to spend time together. It also serves to keep the rivals for the couple’s affections in the picture. Presumably amping up the tension and suspense. What a laugh. The scheme they came up with was unbelievable and contrived. He is putting his talents to work by throwing an exclusive gala and silent auction to scrape up the money for the shelter’s owner to buy the building which is being sold out from under her. They didn’t even try to make any aspect of this scheme even vaguely credible. So unlikable and uninteresting characters, a silly plot, not enough humor, and irresponsible pet ownership. Not good.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Noel Next Door

A Good Start to the Season

And so it begins. This offering is the official kick-off to Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas. By December 18th, there will be a total of 31 Christmas movies, and this does not include 9 more that will be showing on Hallmark’s Movies and Mysteries. Some will be awful, most average, and some really good. But one thing’s for sure, there will be more diversity than ever. Not only with age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation but culturally as well. Kwanzaa and Hanukkah will be celebrated and 2 Chinese celebrations will be featured. For those who like to keep that kind of thing to a minimum, you can head on over to GAC along with Candace Cameron Bure, Danica Mckellar, Jen Lilley, and Trevor Donovan. In addition, Lifetime will have an additional 15 Christmassy contributions with a little more edge to them and probably even more diversity.

Anyway back to Noel Next Door. It was excellent. A youngish recently divorced mother who works in a diner meets a handsome partially paralyzed stroke victim who is sweet and kind (he gives her a 200% tip on his takeout order) and they are instantly attracted to each other. Her name is Noelle. Yes, really. Meanwhile, her tween son has several run-ins with the neighborhood scrooge who has recently moved into the neighborhood.  In addition to insisting the condominium complex take down their Christmas tree, slamming his door in the faces of some little kid carolers, and walking around with an angry disgusted face all the time, he yells at and threatens young Henry who continually kicks his soccer ball against the wall of his condo. Noelle’s son is a nice boy at home but does have a bit of a bratty side. In other words, he acts like a real kid. Little do the two know, while they fall in love, that he is actually the Christmas-hating neighborhood grouch with an anger management problem, and she is the incompetent mother of a mean little punk.

The tension builds throughout the movie in anticipation of the two neighbors meeting in person and discovering each others’ true identities. Meanwhile, they grow more and more attached and happy with each other. It is handled very well, as the big moment doesn’t come until about the 75% mark and their reactions are pretty hilarious and well-acted. In addition to her work, her son, and her new relationship, Noelle has to deal with an ex-husband who is a one-man asshole parade. He threatens her with a lawyer when she won’t surrender her court-appointed Christmas day with young Henry to him and his mistress at their old home. There is some blind date comedy (Are you one of those people who believes our planet is round?) and some heart-tugging moments as well.

Both Corey Sevier and Natalie Hall were terrific. I still don’t like Natalie’s hair and makeup, but she did well in a more mature down-to-earth role than she is usually given. Joanna Douglas plays her sister and she was lovely and appealing as always. She needs to be given a lead role with Hallmark if she is even interested. Corey had the difficult job of being a bit of a jerk on one hand, and a sympathetic romantic lead on the other. It didn’t hurt that they had a good script to work with. It dealt with serious situations with a nice blend of comedy, drama, and romance along with a good message and plenty of Christmas Spirit to spare.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pumpkin Everything

If You Like Pumpkins, You will Love This One. If You don’t, Avoid at All Costs.

Going by the title and the description of the plot, I didn’t hold too much hope for this one, and I was right. This is just your standard Hallmark placeholder with emphasis on the season and the atmosphere, and little emphasis on making a real effort with a good story and script. There was no depth or complexity to this one at all and it is careful not to step outside the box in any way.  There was little humor, other than seeing some of the townspeople pretend to struggle to lift heavy pumpkins which were obviously very fake, very plastic, and as light as feathers.

Taylor Cole, who I didn’t recognize at first, plays Amy, a very successful best-selling author who has just finished the third in her vampire series. Ahem. She comes home right when she is to start her national publicity tour to help her mom take care of  Gramps, played by Michael Ironside who is also unrecognizable. He just drove his truck into the local coffee shop and ended up with a sprained wrist. He is a real piece of work, this one. He has spent the last 15 years or so pouting and sulking that Amy pursued her dream of being a writer instead of taking over his pumpkin store. He even backed out of paying for her college because of it. Jerk.

Despite Amy’s laudably kind and patient efforts, he obstinately remains semi-estranged from her. Add to this, he keeps having accidents because he won’t acknowledge that he is too old and delusional as to his capabilities to live alone safely. He selfishly won’t go into the retirement community which would give his daughter and granddaughter some piece of mind. And he can’t afford it anyway without selling his home and his pumpkin store. Amy’s old boyfriend, a recovering alcoholic and former delinquent (his mother died) is helping him with the store and is doing a great job.

I was just waiting for Amy to cancel her much sought-after promotional appearance on a national morning show to cater to the old coot, but that didn’t happen. If it had I would have turned this half-hearted effort off in disgust.  She was actually quite firm with him and confronted him with some home truths a couple of times. So that was good. The other bright spots were the underused Amy Groening who played Amy’s agent and the actress who played Amy’s mother. She has a little romance of her own when she charges in to confront the owner of the coffee shop who is rightly planning to sue Grandpa for demolishing his store and ends up falling for him like a ton of bricks. Also noteworthy was a super hip female resident of the retirement community who connects with Grandpa over their love of jazz. She was a star. Of course, it all works out in the end, but not without Grandpa falling off a chair end ending up in the hospital (again).  This knocks some sense into him, literally, and he finally agrees to join the retirement community. It is not explained how he is going to afford it though because he basically gives his store to Corey Sevier instead of selling it for mucho dinero. I guess poor Taylor will have to ante up with her book proceeds. Luckily, it looks like she can afford it. I’m guessing the irony of this will be lost on Grandpa.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

October 10, 2022

Road Trip Romance

Not Dreadful, but Very Very Average

Which is almost worse than dreadful.

I’m getting to be able to judge if I am going to like a Hallmark( 8, 9, or 10 stars) by the amount and application of make-up the head girl is wearing. Natalie Hall’s foundation and eyelashes were thick and ever-present, therefore I didn’t like this one. As unflattering and aging as a lot of make-up is, at least it was understandable at the beginning when she was pitching her company to a potential client. It’s not like this was a ranch-girl part. But why the next day, when she was off the clock in a small town or alone in a car with someone she supposedly doesn’t like? I mean, how long does it take to put false eyelashes on?

Natalie meets an ex-high-school rival in the same distant city while they are both competing for the same contract. And their companies sell the exact crazy thing: very niche mechanical party favors. What are the odds? I guess the same as two rivals both being butterfly wranglers for parties and having their parties right next door to each other at the same time. Even though they are both at least in their 30s, they, at least Natalie, are still nursing their petty high-school grudges.

After their business is concluded they both have to fly back to Hometownsville. She for her sister’s wedding, he for his Dad’s retirement barbecue. The flights have all been canceled. Road Trip! Forced propinquity! Hate to Love! That’s all folks!

A couple of highlights: Along the way, their car break-eth down, and they are force-eth to attend-eth a Rennaisance Festival in a small town, sleep-eth in a tent (no s’mores thank God), and deal-eth with a mechanic who won’t fix-eth their car because it’s a Renaissance festival and they didn’t have-eth cars in the Renaissance.  Natalie, the maid of honor, misses all of the festivities and her maid-of-honor duties and almost misses the wedding. The bride’s ”best friend”, who is a dead ringer for Joyce DeWitt of Three’s Company,  is corralled into taking over for Natalie, and she likes it a little too much. When Natalie finally arrives, Joyce tells her the wrong church and leaves her with the wrong dress. Wow.

Natalie seems to be a favorite with many and seems to be the go-to girl when a  young(ish) lead is needed. I am not a fan. I do like Corey Sevier, who plays a bit of a nerd. He has the best line in the movie, “When the real men were huntering and gathering, I always preferred to stay at home and read about it.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

May 20, 2022

The Art of Us

Van Gogh to Hell in a Handbasket

The Art of Us had some “odd for Hallmark” elements in it. Some of which were not unwelcome.

First off, yes, Taylor Cole as Dr. Harper Higgins lies about her Dog Walker/Talented Artist love interest being Vincent Van Gogh’s great-grandson in order to advance her career. So that genuinely crossed the line as far as morals and ethics are concerned. It put other people’s careers and reputations on the line. Hallmark heroines usually do have some foibles and faults to grow past, but being unethical and dishonest for monetary gain is usually not one of them. Especially to people she counts as her colleagues and friends. Secondly, she and her artist actually suffer consequences for their bad behavior. She loses her own career and reputation and he has his show canceled and dismantled. The third aspect that was unusual was that the ex-boyfriend is actually a good honest (and very attractive) guy and the only one smart and educated enough to show any skepticism regarding Tom Becker’s pedigree. Taylor broke up with him because, as an art critic, he told the truth about her art (too technical, no heart or passion) in his review. He was saddened when that truth-telling caused her to quit painting instead of learning and trying again. So yes, Taylor is weak character-wise. the fourth thing is that we forego the 15-20 minutes-to-go in the movie conflict that busts the couple up temporarily. There is a crisis but they face it together.

There were also some big questions to get past in order to buy into the main plot. It is not credible at all that a University art department and respected art dealer would buy into Taylor’s lie about Van Gogh. It is well known that Van Gogh had no children. That such a blockbuster revelation would just be accepted at face value with no investigation is simply ridiculous. That a talented artist would be revealed to be Van Gogh’s great-grandson would be headline news worldwide in the arts community.

I had thought I saw this years ago but I hadn’t. When I saw that it starred Steve Lund, I had to check it out because he is a favorite of mine. He is very engaging, you (I, anyway) really buy into whatever emotion he is trying to convey. There is genuine feeling beyond his words. And when the script calls for it, he can be very funny. He elevates whatever he is in. Taylor Cole? Meh. I can take or leave her. Sometimes she’s pretty good, but in this one she is just average. Maybe her character was to blame though. Everything ends on an upbeat note. It is shown that Tom is on the way to becoming a successful artist, and Harper is happily going back to her own painting with a whole new attitude now that her university career is in shambles.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 12, 2022

Grounded for Christmas

Winter Storm Meghan is Back and Better Than Ever!

One of my favorite romantic plot devices is the bringing a fake boyfriend home for whatever reason. This one did a great job thanks mostly to the great chemistry between the two likable leads. Cheryl Ladd as the warm and loving mom was a welcome addition. I have seen her also play a cold ruthless boss this Christmas movie season. She was equally believable in both roles. So that must mean she is a very good actress. And she still looks beautiful. The ex-boyfriend was really creepy, by the way. It was hard to swallow how Nina could ever had had her heart broken by him. Very cute and romantic ending.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 15, 2020

Love in Translation

Enjoyable Romantic Comedy Without the Usual Hallmarkisms

I really loved this one! I particularly liked Michelle Argyris, a fresh new face. She was darling and had excellent acting and comedic skills. Corey Sevier was fine as usual and played a nerdy (but not too nerdy) clueless academic. Very cute.

A very highly qualified and educated girl wants to fulfill her dream of working at a museum, a career path that is reserved for the best of the best in the field. In order to get her foot in the door, she gets a job helping the influential museum archeologist with his language skills. Corey has sensed that his French girlfriend is pulling away from him and realizes that speaking her language will increase the romance quotient in their relationship. Language is our girl’s specialty and she speaks about a dozen languages not including dead ones. Unfortunately she gets very discombobulated and awkward around any guy that she thinks is cute and attractive, which Corey definitely is. It is no spoiler to assure you that in addition to getting the guy in the end, she also scores the position of her dreams due to her ability to decipher an ancient inscription that results in a gigantic financial coup for the museum.

This one avoids the usual bone tired Hallmark set pieces. OH. I see that it is not a Hallmark. No wonder. Another plus is the actress that plays our heroine’s sister. Her performance is very entertaining and comedic.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 22, 2021