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Finding Your True North

This is another high-quality offering by Hallmark and was shown on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries. They seem to be using this branch of their network to show productions that go a little deeper and are a little more complex than a romantic comedy. They are more about family relationships, drama, overcoming problems, and learning life lessons. There is a bit of a romance included but it’s hardly the main attraction.

The movie starts off with three sisters and their relationship. The two oldest live in the same city, not in Alaska, and are at odds because the oldest, Hannah, is so wrapped up in her career that she has no time to spare for the younger and her two daughters. She is married happily and, also happily, they do not have any children. The younger, Beth, is a happily married stay-at-home Mom, who is getting tired of that role and feels unfulfilled. She is being tempted to go back to her successful career. The younger sister, Posy, lives in Alaska with the parents. She yearns for travel and adventure but feels obligated to take over their parents’ café upon their imminent retirement. They are all about to meet up in Alaska to celebrate their mother’s 60th birthday which is also the 25th anniversary of a mysterious bad happening.

As the movie goes on, surprising aspects to the girls’ relationship and their family are revealed. All is not as we were first led to believe. The career-oriented Hannah learns she is pregnant (not terminally ill-Yay!). What will be the fallout with Adam her husband? Beth’s husband finds out she is secretly testing the waters of going back to her successful career and feels betrayed. Posey is falling in love with a mountain climber and travel writer which falls in with her dreams of travel as opposed to running her parents’ café.

The lesson of the story is “”sometimes you find your calling but sometimes you’re calling finds you” and each of the sisters in turn learns this is true for them. In the process, a tragedy is explored, a mother is released from a 25 year long guilt, a young man finds closure. And revelations lead to understanding and new paths forward.

The actors were well cast, and their parts well-acted, especially Kimberley Sustad as the middle sister and overprotective mother, Beth. At one point she is accused of “Catastrophizing everything!” I also loved Matthew James Dowden who played Adam, Hannah’s husband. He usually plays sketchy characters, but he was wonderful as an unqualified good guy in this. The one fly in the ointment was the casting of Luke, Posey’s love interest. His looks, demeanor, and speech cried vacant surfer dude, not educated sophisticated world traveler and author. It was laughable. Where was Ali Liebert, the director? Everything else was so good.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 13, 2022

A Bride for Christmas

Great Cast

I recorded this on a whim when I looked at the cast and vaguely remembered that it was pretty good. Sometimes I just don’t have what it takes to invest in a recent premiere movie that I haven’t seen yet. I just read what I wrote there. That is a sad commentary right there. Usually, I look at these re-dos in bed when I wake up in the middle of the night or the last thing before I try to fall asleep.

The plot was entirely predictable of course. The appeal lay in the cast of  Arielle Kebble, Andrew Walker, and Kimberley Sustad in particular. Arielle Kebble is one of the better early Hallmark actresses. Her movies for Hallmark are as memorable as they are few and far between. She is particularly good in those that emphasize lighter comedy rather than earnest heart-tuggery. Although don’t count her out when the story calls for heartbreak, however temporary (as this one does). Our heroine is a runaway bride who we meet Just as she is about to go down the aisle to wed door #3. We know trouble is on the horizon in the dressing room when she asks her mother how she knew her Dad was “the one.” But she walks down the aisle with a big smile. Arielle is very funny as her smile turns from happy and excited then stiff and then a bit panicked as she keeps walking past the wedding party and out the side door without a pause. Andrew Walker does his usual thing (which is a very good thing) as the commitment-phobe who bets his buddies he can get get a woman to accept his marriage proposal by Christmas. It was a little unclear what this was meant to prove. He settles on Arielle.

This is classic romantic comedy material as the “player” courts the gun-shy reluctant jilt and they fall in love for real. Kimberly Sustad, who was only 22 when this movie was made, practically a baby by current Hallmark standards, plays Arielle’s sister and turns a nothing part into one in which she almost steals every scene. I also want to single out Sage Brocklebank as Mike, the jilted bridegroom who is a creepy looming presence as he hopes to win Arielle back and sees her and Andrew falling for each other. He manages to elicit pity for his heartbreak and uneasiness as to what menace he is capable of.

I gave this a ‘7″ initially, but by today’s standards it is a solid “8.” Terrible promotional poster by the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 26, 2021

The Nine Kittens of Christmas

Kittens!

The sequel to the Nine Lives of Christmas starts out with a shocker! Marilee and Zachary have broken up! And she’s with another guy! In Miami! And she looks happy! AAAAAIIIIIEEEEEE!!!!! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? Well, it turns out that she wanted more (marriage) and he didn’t want to “ruin a good thing”. She enrolled in a veterinarian school in far away Miami by way of a wake-up call, and he didn’t stop her or come after her. So yes, it was totally his fault.

But there’s hope. She goes home for Christmas, as one does, looking forward to spending time with Miles (her boyfriend) and her family. But he prioritizes their veterinarian practice over family, they have a fight and they break up over the phone. She remarks sadly to her sister that she thought Miles would have fought harder for their relationship. Poor Marilee burned again. But she doesn’t get a complex over it, she goes on and reconnects with Zack over finding homes for 9 adorable kittens. The chemistry is still there.

Kimberley Sustad is great as always. Beautiful in an accessible way, charming, and funny. Brandon Routh is very handsome and does a good job. He works well with Kimberley. She gets some good digs in. She steals the Christmas tree he and Sam (Gregory Harrison the Fire Chief) had their eye on. When he protests she tells him “Well think of it as a teachable moment. The next time you find “the one” don’t drag your feet.” Thanks to good acting, the banter is entertaining.

The only quibble I have with this one is that she seems to do all the work in the relationship. He is very passive. At one point, she grabs him and kisses him and then apologizes and walks away. He lets her. He admits to Sam that the break-up was his fault and it was the worst mistake of his life. Sam asks him whether he ever told her that. Uh, No. He sees her with her ex (yes Miles shows up in Oregon all contrite) and he jumps to conclusions and runs home. She has to call him. He doesn’t answer his phone. When his cat answers it for him, she confesses her love, but he has to think about it and remains silent. Paul Campbell, Kimberley’s frequent partner in past Hallmarks, makes a cameo in this one. At this point, I’m thinking she missed the boat.

Finally, in the end, he says and does everything he should and even puts a ring on it. I am making the decision to have faith that this relationship has a future because I like the couple so much. Plus, breaking up with her now that they’re engaged would take some initiative on his part, so I think Marilee is safe from another heartbreak.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

Spotlight on Christmas

Started off Very Promisingly, but Fizzled in the Last Half

This started off strongly with the great casting of Tori Anderson as a believable A-list movie star. I also liked the actress that played her little half-sister, though I was at first confused about the family dynamics. I found Victor Zinck just OK as the hometown love interest and was underwhelmed by the chemistry. I didn’t believe him in the role. I am apparently in the minority on this issue.

Olivia returns to her hometown after a long absence to escape from the paparazzi after a messy break with her country-western star boyfriend. Alas, she is followed. I immediately liked the character of Olivia, because she was so pretty and nice. Unfortunately, her story got slower and more boring as the movie went on. Interestingly I noted a small cameo by one of my favorite Hallmark actresses at the beginning of the movie, Kimberly Sustad. Had she continued her small contribution in the role of the conflicted paparazzo, it might have added a needed spark to one of the dull subplots. I also noted that it was directed by another favorite, Ali Liebert. Hallmark Actresses Unite! Good for her and better luck next time. I would like to see more of Tori Anderson in these Hallmark-type movies.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 24, 2020

Wedding Every Weekend

Way to Go, Hallmark!

I agree with all of the positive reviews regarding this movie. Kimberley Sustad is a very likable and talented actress and does comedy very well. I liked the plot and the slow-building realistic growth of her feelings for Paul Campbell and his for her. It’s been a long time since I have looked forward to the inevitable happy ending with such anticipation in a Hallmance. Too often it’s just a big yawn. They did avoid most of the usual Hallmark tent poles in the plot although the “big misunderstanding” was front and center.

Yes, the diversity was laid on with a trowel. Jewish, Black, multi-ethnic, and gay weddings. But sometimes the politically correct thing is also the right and good thing. In fact, the only “normal” (Ha Ha) couple was the lead couple, now that I think about it. Hopefully, the religious right can take some comfort in that. As for me, I hope Hallmark doesn’t think they’ve done their duty for the time being as far as diversity is concerned and non-WASP non-straight people go back to being relegated to tokens. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will be guided by the praise and not the invective.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 17, 2020

Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen

A Defiant 10

I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books and seen all of the films and series based on her books numerous times. I’ve read a lot of Austen-based modern interpretations as well. I am drawn to the numerous modern riffs on Austen and enjoyed many of them. My favorites are Clueless and Bollywood’s Bride and Prejudice. So of course I’ve seen the previous attempts Hallmark has made to capitalize on Austen’s current popularity. They were shameless exploitations because neither the plot nor the characters had anything to do with Jane’s works.

This one was different. Like Sense and Sensibility, we have two sisters who have an “Us against the world” mentality. One is flighty and starry-eyed, and one is practical and down to earth. They run a party planning business together. They are a believable version of what a modern Marianne and Eleanor might be. The love interest is a reserved button-down and shy corporate head who is dominated by an over-bearing parent and romantically linked to a childhood sweetheart. There is also a secondary love interest called Brandon. But here’s where the scriptwriter wisely mixes it up. Instead of All-business practical Marianne (they also switch the names of the two sisters) being paired off with the Corporate stick-in-the-mud, It is the lively Ella who takes him by storm and shakes up his life and attitudes. It is very cute and more suitable for the modern Rom-com. The chemistry between the two couples and the sisters was romantic and touching. The acting was some of the best I have seen in a Hallmark lately. Erin Krakow was wide-eyed, energetic, and outgoing as her character called for. Erin surely has been doing these Hallmarks for 2 decades, but she hasn’t changed a bit. She was charming. Kimberley Sustad, a Hallmark stalwart, made Marianne likable and understandable despite her buzz-kill personality. Even though the two characters had conflicts and conflicting world-views, their love and loyalty to each other were touchingly done and affecting. Luke McFarlane was superb. He usually plays cardboard cut-out romantic heroes. In this one, he started out as a real pill who slowly and realistically melted and opened up. I was very impressed by the job he did with the Edward Ferrar personality. He was funny. I loved the chemistry between Luke and Erin, and couldn’t wait for the final chaste clinch.

So yes, I give this a 10. Overgenerous? Perhaps. But with this one, I’m grading on the Hallmark curve against a singularly lackluster couple of years of Hallmark Christmas movies. I’m amazed at some of the sour and overwrought reviews this one has gotten. I can only think that their experience with modern Austen takes is pretty limited.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 3, 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