When I Think of Christmas

I Got Distracted From the Story

This had some good things about it. I really like Niall Matter and I saw Shenae Grimes in a few things a while back and also liked her very much. She plays a lawyer in the big city who comes home for Christmas to help her mother downsize and move into a new condo. She comes across her old music partner (Niall Matter) and we learn that she used to be a talented musician and singer like her late father. Niall gives her the cold shoulder and there is a lot of anger behind his eyes. They have a fight and the truth comes out. She won a scholarship to Yale University and abandoned their dreams to go to Nashville together and try to make a go at music. She didn’t discuss it with him and just left with no warning. She basically ghosted him after a long relationship. But after she got to Yale, she wrote him and tried to call him numerous times and he just ignored her. The best he could do on his own was be part of a band. He couldn’t attain any degree of the success he dreamed of without her, although he did make a little name for himself. He has been blaming her all this time for his lack of success and for choosing Yale over him and leaving with no discussion. He is back in town directing the town’s big amateur Christmas concert. They air it all out and forgive each other and start to work together.

To be frank I was so busy trying to figure out how old the Niall Matter character was supposed to be, that I kind of lost interest in all the ins and outs of the story. Shenae’s character is definitely 28 years old. She got her scholarship as a senior in high school and it’s been 10 years. The 10-year gap between 18 and present-day is confirmed several times. Given the situation and what we learned about their relationship, it appears that Niall is about the same age. They were a music duo and were singing together since she was about 15. They were young and in love and making plans to leave town together to make a go of it in Nashville. It is mentioned later in the movie that they were in 6th grade together. But later, when it becomes obvious that his career is not going well Shenae asks him what happened. He says he got tired of just playing national venues as just part of a band and wanted to strike out on his own. At this point, Shenae confirms that this was when he was 29. As if 29 was several years ago. He says he put everything and every dollar into it, but just failed. He is still a performer, but he is not a success. He is so beaten down and discouraged that surely he struggled for at least a few years? (He even churlishly refused to join a singer on stage during the tree lighting, when given a shout-out, publicly turning his back on her) I figured he was 31 to her 28 at the youngest. It just didn’t hang together chronologically or logically. My guess is that the part was written for them both to be 28 or so years old, but it was too much of a stretch when 42-year-old Niall Matter was cast, no matter how attractive he looks. So they added some lines to age him up a bit. My head hurt trying to make it all make sense. I don’t know, it just bothered me.

They both behaved badly and they were whiny about it. For a 30 or 31 (or older) year-old man, Niall was very immature and did not seem to have much gumption or a firm grasp of the realities of the importance of being able to make a living. Shenae blamed her mother for her very successful career in New York as a lawyer. She made her feel guilty about being a responsible caring mother and guiding her teenage self to make the choice of the Yale scholarship rather than probably throwing her life away on a big gamble in music. They both just acted like babies. The mom actually ended up apologizing to her. So that was just so wrong as well. Especially when we find out more about her Mom’s struggles before and after her husband was killed.

The performers at this all-important concert were not good. The whole thing was like high school amateur night. Peter Benson’s cameo rapping a Christmas Carol was a treat, though. For all of the build-up, Niall, Shenae and her mother were not great at performing either. They all had very pleasant serviceable voices, but not professional quality by any means. I liked Mom’s new romance, but there was too much involvement in past history.

The end didn’t help. Shenae decides to follow Niall around, take up music again, and maybe practice law on the side (?). Meanwhile, Niall buys a plane ticket to New York to be near Shenae and her big career as a lawyer. The end is very vague as to what they end up doing and how. But one thing’s for sure, actor Daniel Bacon has a lock on the post of the official Mayor of Hallmarktown. This is at least his fourth turn in that role in as many years.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Big Sky River

A Parable for Step-Parents.

This was a low-key pleasant way to pass the time while also serving as a cautionary tale for loving step-parents. There’s not a whole lot of action, but then again it also avoided a lot of tired tent pole scenes and tropes that Hallmark is famous for. This was on Hallmark Murders & Mysteries, and those usually have something a little more to offer than the usual stuff that Hallmark churns out like an assembly line.

Tara is a recent divorcee whose ex-husband wants to distance her from his daughter, her step-daughter, Erin, so she can bond with his new girlfriend without Tara in the way. Tara and Erin love each other dearly. Of course they do. Tara is the only mother Erin has ever known, and Erin has been Tara’s daughter for 10 of her 13 years. But Tara has no rights now that she is divorced from Erin’s father. This is a sad and scary situation for both of them, but being a mature, reasonable woman Tara respects James’ wishes (not that she has much of a choice) and is leaving for the summer. As a young girl, she spent a vacation at a dude ranch in Parable, Montana with her parents and she has always thought back on that time fondly. No, surprisingly, this is not a Dude ranch story. The dude ranch is now defunct but she is renting a house nearby.  

While in her summer home she takes care of the resident chickens, rides horses, makes friends, and dances, but more importantly meets a handsome next-door neighbor who is also the local sheriff, and his two boys. They form a connection right away, but being parents they are cautious and careful. And, as they both know, Tara will be leaving at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, the ex-husband, Hallmark’s longstanding never-the-romantic-lead-and-also-director Peter Benson, is not having a smooth time with his daughter. She has chased off 4 nannies and the agency won’t send anymore. He basically wants to just get rid of her and she won’t go to camp. He calls Tara and asks her to take Erin for the rest of the summer. Both Tara and Erin are thrilled and Erin happily joins her mom and makes herself at home in Parable.

And that’s about it until the big crisis. I won’t go any further, but it results in Tara finally putting her foot down with James and James caving in immediately. It was the highlight of the movie.  By the end, Tara and Erin will be together in Parable with Tara and Boone pursuing their promising relationship and hopefully forming one big happy family.

I appreciated late 30 and 40-somethings dealing with age-appropriate situations. Too often, Hallmark has their 40-year-old actors dealing with life situations more common to twenty-somethings. The moral, or parable, if you will, of this story is, that if you’re the loving parent of a stepchild, better go ahead and adopt them. Marriages are not always forever but parenthood is. Don’t lose your rights to your child.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 18, 2022

Blueprint to the Heart

No Make-Over Necessary

My main problem with this one was why any home renovation show or interior designer with any taste would want to change this carpenter’s cute, authentic, and cozy home. They wanted to rip out the hardwood floors, remove the original old wood fir tree beams and knock out the walls to make it a McMansion-style house. And they wanted to do the same to him, basically. This guy who was a casual, cheerful, very talented carpenter who looked like a poor man’s Chris Pratt. And I mean that as a compliment. However, the chemistry between the two principals was excellent and good triumphed over evil in the end. Probably doesn’t deserve it, but I’m giving it 7 stars for the likability and overall appeal of the hero.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 31, 2021

You, Me, and the Christmas Trees

Needles Schmeedles

I’ve never been a member of the Danica McKellar fan club except when she was Winnie on The Wonder Years. I also like her advocacy for girls and math in real life. I’m a little troubled about why she signed an exclusive contract with GAC Family. A network that, apparently, is an alternative for those who are uncomfortable with Hallmark’s new commitment to diversity, and their more inclusive view of “family values”. Personally, I like Hallmark’s more friendly view of “Family” better these days. We’ll see. Anyway, Danica always looks troubled or worried about something or other. She has a resting frowny face. Although I recognize that she is accounted to be very attractive, her looks have never appealed to me.

Danica aside, this was a big miss for me. Although the science was kind of interesting at first, the whole process drew out way too long. Do your scientist thing, solve the problem, and move on from the rather boring problem of falling tree needles. Both of the leads’ crises were of their own making. I mean, his only use for his land was to grow evergreen trees which had no monetary value except at Christmas time? What did he do the rest of the year? It’s not like trees need a lot of care. He kept saying he did not want to diversify because the advice from his father was to do one thing well rather than many things poorly. Well, he didn’t do his “one thing” very well, did he? Farmer Ben Ayres did not have a backup plan, as Danica relentlessly pointed out, and Danica was not open and honest with her mother, preferring to be a victim, I guess. I admit Danica is pretty good at conveying victimhood. I do usually like Ben Ayers. He is very good at playing masculine, kind of grouchy men. So he was pretty well-cast as a stubborn loner-type farmer whose Christmas Trees were dying right before Christmas.

Taking a page from a trend of reuniting actors from old shows, Jason Hervey, also, like Danica, of The Wonder Years, played the bad guy. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 9, 2021

Five Star Christmas

Perfect Set-Up for a Sequel

Hallmark will have SERIOUSLY disappointed me considering the comparatively weak movies that they do build on if they don’t follow this one up. It is very rare that I give 10 stars to a Hallmark movie. This deserved every one of them. The highest praise I could give is that this almost could have been a regular theatre movie. I said almost. It was laugh-out-loud funny while being heart-tuggingly touching. And without being manipulative like the “soldier’s sad widow who finds a new love” movies are. There were multiple engaging story lines and a nice romance. Lucy and her siblings meet at home for Christmas only to discover that their Dad has turned it into a B&B and is making a mull of it. They all join forces to help their Dad turn it into a success. When who they think is an influential B&B reviewer drives up, they all pretend to be staff or happy guests, as there are no real ones, and that would not be a good look. The direction was awesome by veteran Hallmark director, Christie Will Wolf. She has not always helmed good movies, but in this case, the good script was made something special. The acting by most concerned fills the bill.

Once I got used to Bethany’s new eyebrows and Victor Webster as her love interest, it did not put a step wrong. I like Victor, but he was a little miscast. And can you believe no flour throwing scenes or snow-ball fight or snow angels to be found?! Instead, there was a Taffy-Pull! What a concept!

Each cast member had a very engaging story, and any one of the characters could be the focus of a next spin-off or two. Or Three.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 28, 2020

Tempting Fate

It’s a Bad Idea to Flirt via Text Messages unless You’re Single

**spoilers**

This is another in Lifetime’s Book to Screen series. I gave it a seven because I did watch it with interest through the whole thing. A husband betrays his wife by getting a vasectomy behind her back when he knew she wanted another child. He’s all I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but when she asks that he has it reversed he balks. While feeling angry and betrayed, (and who could blame her?) she goes to a party and meets a young tech millionaire who is a good guy who offers her a pretty sweet business opportunity. Friendship soon turns into flirting via text and ultimately one night of passion. She immediately feels remorse and guilt and cuts off the relationship and her business partnership with him. She reconciles with hubby and all is happy happy happy. But oopsie. She is pregnant. When she breaks the news to hubby (abortion is not even an option) He is very very upset. (and who could blame him?) He leaves her and proceeds full speed ahead to divorce, selling the beloved family home, and breaking up the family. She wants to work it out because they really did have a great marriage and wonderful family before the infidelity. Their two daughters feel the fallout. One hates her mother, the other favors her mother, but acts out in a truly horrendous way and is expelled. He is all you did this! It is all your fault! He refuses to take any responsibility. Well enough plot outline. It all proceeds in a fairly predictable manner.

My main quibble is how happy it all ended. I mean talk about rainbows, sparkles, and unicorns. It ends up she not only didn’t lose a husband, but gained a millionaire baby daddy whose new girlfriend is even welcomed as a family friend and presumably a free babysitter. It was too cheesy even for me.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 19, 2019

Cooking With Love

This should Cement Ali Liebert’s Place in the Hallmark Pantheon of Female Leads

After several turns as “the best friend” of the heroine, where she has all but out shown the leads, Ali Liebert has finally been getting much deserved leading roles in these Hallmark seasonal romances. This one is the best yet. Kudos to Hallmark for recognizing her appeal and giving her prominent roles. I hope she becomes as ubiquitous as Chabert, Reiser, Boston, Polo, and several others.

This one is also helped by a tightly woven plot, good character development, and an attractive leading man who has a real arc into becoming (or being revealed as) a good guy after all. I must quibble at this point over one plot hole. Our hero, a diva chef, has his career almost ruined by a viral video of him throwing food on a restaurant critic in a fit of temper. He reveals later that the video edited out the fact that prior to the food on the lap incident, the victim had made his waitress cry by being so mean to her. Why didn’t he just explain that on Facebook or Twitter? Instead of needing an image rehabilitation, he becomes a hero. It is also absent some of the overdone stupid gimmicks that most of these Hallmarks seem to hinge on. No angels, City bad, country good, factory shuttings, time travel, nor I Hate (just fill in the holiday). What keeps it from getting a higher rating from me is the lack of depth, suspense, pathos, or super hot chemistry between the leads. But it’s good. Really good.

Ali has the super nice girl who is maybe a little too nice role down pat. Plus she has the most energetic eyebrows I’ve ever seen. Very cute, if a bit distracting. Couldn’t take my eyes off of them.**8 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 26, 2018

Sweet Carolina

Hallmark Takes a Daring Step Forward

It’s not often Hallmark actresses get to portray anguish on camera. Luckily they have a real pro and bona fide actress in Lacey Chabert, who did a very credible job. I can think of very few in the stable of regulars who could have pulled off the scene where she learns her beloved sister and brother-in-law have been killed. I cried. The whole ensemble handled the story very well. You can tell they pulled out the “big guns” to meet the challenge of a script that actually called for a range of emotion: Gregory Harrison and Teryl Rothery as the parents, good ole Peter Benson as the city boyfriend who gets dumped for the small-town coach, who was played by the always welcome Tyler Hynes. I appreciated that they got a normal-looking kid who could act to play the introverted son.

There were very real problems and conflicts that had to be resolved. The father was a good guy, but too controlling. Gregory Harrison managed to keep him likable. I groaned when they were setting up for the customary Hallmark food fight ( or snowball fight if it’s winter) but it was actually funny, thanks to the performances.

It was good to see Hallmark break out of its own box a little bit. Fear not, most of the usual templates were still in place, but baby steps! Kudos.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 17, 2021

P. S. I just noticed that Lacey Chabert was actually one of the writers. You go, girl! **8 stars out of 10**

Wedding Bells

Good Comeback for Danica

I am afraid I gave poor Danica McKellar a pretty hard time for her last Hallmark effort, A Crown for Christmas. She was too old for the part, she was not a good match for the fabulous Rupert Penry-Jones, and she wore too much makeup. It was just awkward, including her performance. She was excellent in this. This one confirms that the casting of the two leads makes all the difference. She made a good match for Kavan Smith, who played her love interest. They were both age-appropriate for the story and attractive enough, but not drop-dead gorgeous. A very pleasant outing.

It was nice to have the drop-dead gorgeous one (Christopher Russell) paired with someone else in the secondary romance. His love interest was a mismatch, and sure enough, to my mild surprise, they did not work out their problems and split up in the end. Bruce Boxleitner was a pleasure to see, as usual. **8 stars out of 10**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 6, 2016