Always Amore

The Recipe Needed a New Twist

This was well-acted by the talented and beautiful Autumn Reeser, as always. She has never disappointed and I approach a Hallmark movie featuring her with optimism. The same goes for Tyler Hynes, who gives a warm and natural performance. He plays a kind of restaurant whisperer hired by the primary investor in Autumn’s restaurant to turn things around.  Kind of like chef Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares but super nice and not swear-y. Unfortunately, this one is the done-to-death “save the restaurant” plotline. Autumn plays a still-grieving widow who is struggling to keep her late husband’s legacy, which is his restaurant, alive.  The problem is that doing that means keeping herself, the restaurant, the menu and recipes, and the staff mired in the past. Case in point, as pointed out incredulously by Tyler, despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, they are still expensively importing their tomatoes from Italy because that’s what her husband did. I sincerely doubt that Italian tomatoes are any better than good ol’ American tomatoes. And so does Tyler, who is exceedingly compassionate and patient despite some very trying hostile attitudes. He finally convinces her that there is no legacy without a functioning restaurant. A restaurant emphasizing love, family, and tradition is all very well, but there is none of that if a profit is not being made. Once that pilot light is turned on, it’s just a matter of convincing the bank to give her a loan to buy out her main investor who is going to sell to a big corporate entity. But the bank is not going to do that until the restaurant shows some signs of life. She has to convince her husband’s protege, himself a brilliant chef, to enter a food competition to generate buzz.  He is reluctant because he perceives that as being disloyal to his mentor. After plenty of annoying waffling, he agrees. And Autumn contributes her awesome baking skills to the effort. But what about when intimidating but beloved Mother-in-law Patty “Bad Seed” McCormack finds out what they are up to? Is she going to be like lovely wise “Nonna”, or scary Rhoda?

Besides the talented cast (including a personal fave, Latonya Williams, as the contest head, and the talented child actor, Erica Tremblay, as Autumn’s daughter) the food photography is gorgeous and the menu items look delicious. Or as they describe in the movie, “glorious, stunning, delectable, genius, a miracle, etc.”. Heavy on the tension and distress, as well as the thesaurus, and light on the wit and humor, the script is the same old retread of the same old “save the business” story and with nothing special to set it apart. Autumn’s recovery from grief and finding her own path and a new love was fine, but it was hardly anything new.

Despite the finest freshest ingredients, if the recipe isn’t good, neither is the dish.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 7, 2022

Second Chance at Love

God and Family First.

Gloria Rubin and Eric LaSalle play Brenda and Jack, the divorced parents of happily married Alicia. We learn from Alicia’s voice-over in the beginning that when her family put God and family first, they were happy. But when her two parents started getting too involved in their careers, they grew apart and when she was twelve they divorced and virtually ceased contact with each other.

As the title and the trailers suggest, this is about the parents finding each other once again after many years apart. But it is also about Alicia’s and her husband Arnold’s marriage as well. While at first their marriage seems solid we see fairly quickly that there are subtle cracks. Arnold is way too flattered when a pretty girl smiles at him. Alicia is way too involved in her parents’ lives, to the point that Arnold feels like he is losing his wife and the intimacy of their relationship. The father dates quite a lot, but when things get serious, he breaks up with them. The mother has no interest in dating, insisting she is fulfilled by her career, NOT LONELY, and is happy on her own. Except she is not on her own. Whenever she feels at loose ends, she goes over to Alicia and Arnold’s house or calls Alicia on the phone. Alicia sees what is happening but can’t and won’t distance herself from her mother. She is very conflicted. When she wants time alone with her husband she does not appreciate her mother’s presence. But when her mother does not have time for her, she is not happy with that either. She keeps saying the right things but keeps doing very foolish things, pushing her loving husband to the limit. Brenda finally wakes up to her pattern of behavior thanks to her own mother who leads a very active social life (the wonderful BJ Harrison) and agrees to “get back out there.” Brenda and Jack, using the same dating app, accidentally meet on a blind date with each other.

This is a movie that deals with challenging relationship problems between couples in love and between parents and children. It is about the impact of divorce. Not everything is black and white with easy solutions. There is a lot of conversation and many one step forward, two steps back situations with both couples. Although both couples have their happy endings, it does not come easily until the end when the carefully constructed challenges and problems collapse into a pile of mush. But before that, this is a Hallmark that is very (very) unusual. It is well-written and well-acted.

Criticism of Hallmark reached a crescendo this last Christmas. Great exception was taken by some to ignoring God and religion (Christianity) in Christmas movies. In one movie, the carolers La-la-la-ed their way through a Christmas carol about Jesus, which was, indeed, ridiculous. This sense of betrayal is also all mixed up with Hallmark featuring mixed-race couples and Gay couples. I hope the disaffected take note of this one. Although not preachy at all or overtly religious, it is not shy about the role of the church and the importance of putting God and family first in life. No, it’s not the only way to lead a good fulfilling life or to have a successful happy relationship. But it is one way. And this movie is an affirmation of that path.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 27, 2022

Where Your Heart Belongs

Dreadful

This was dreadful. Jen Lilley seems doomed lately to playing contemptible characters. And contemptible characters that are written poorly. Mackenzie is a top marketing executive in New York City who is losing her clients to a shiny new rival. She is stressed out about that when her best friend moves her wedding up and needs her help to pull it off in their old hometown. She hasn’t been home since her mother died and did I hear right that it’s been 10 years? Her father has health problems and his maple syrup business is failing because he stubbornly refuses to modernize despite the financial support and advice of his “employee”, Mackenzie’s old boyfriend played by Christopher Russell. It doesn’t help that the trees he is tapping are not Maple trees.

Her friend wants a simple hometown inexpensive wedding because that is the kind of down-to-earth person she is. Mackenzie basically hijacks her wedding to promote herself to her rapidly departing clientele. The kicker is that she knows she is doing wrong, but just continues to do it. Her actions are contemptible but Jen Lilley plays it with a sugar coating that only makes her seem like the ultimate phony. She uses her friend’s easygoing nature to run roughshod over her while being on the phone almost constantly to her New York assistant talking about her career problems. She browbeats the bride into going with an ugly over-the-top designer dress instead of the flattering simple gown she loves and gets the lovely little country church trashed by the famous D. J. she hires and his followers who also deface a tree that has a sentimental history to the bride and groom.

Meanwhile, even though she finds out her father’s farm is in foreclosure, she makes no attempt to help or find out what’s going on. She is just too busy and important unless she is flirting with Christopher. Near the end, she goes to the banker/lawyer who tells her that Christopher actually has her father’s power of attorney. That finally gets her attention and she somehow concludes that CR is trying to steal her father’s business when he was really financing it to save it. She pouts and sulks when she isn’t looking panic-stricken and is just generally an A-#1 jerk to lovely Christopher as well as everyone else. But does she try communication? Heck, no. In fact, when Christopher tries to set her straight, “she doesn’t have time” to hear it. No idea why her career is on a death spiral. I don’t mind a character who starts out very flawed but has a character arc over time. Jen Lilley is horrid throughout the whole movie until she ruins everything and she has nowhere to go but up.

To make it all worse, Jen Lilley delivers many of her lines so quickly and incoherently it’s like she wants to get them over with instead of actually acting. She has no connection whatsoever with Christopher Russell. The fact that he, her father, and her friends put up with her throughout the whole movie just made this viewing experience even more unpleasant. The only one who finally stands up to her is the bride. Nelson Wong, (for once not named “Kenny”) who usually is a charming presence in any movie, is annoying and horrible in this, and the ending and resolution made no sense whatsoever. This production is populated with many regular Hallmark supporting players but even they cannot prop this one up.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

January 2, 2022

Merry Liddle Christmas Baby

Family Scenes but No Real Story

It’s safe to say, I just did not get this movie. But I preface this by saying this third in the trilogy is the first one I have watched. In doing some research, apparently in the first of the movies, the Liddle family is fairly dysfunctional and super annoying. In the second, they lose their maniacal tendencies but retain their penchant for stirring up chaos.

In “Baby”, everyone is super chill, even Jacquie who apparently used to be a real control freak. She is pregnant with a very big round baby and is on the couch with her husband and hoping for a peaceful Christmas (for a change.) Her family descends, but they are nice and normal! They are gorgeous and handsome with great clothes. Jacquie’s house is beautiful if a little sterile. The kids were happy and spirited but well-behaved. I was confused by who everyone was and who all those children belonged to. I got the 3 sisters. And I got that Jacquie was marrying a man with two kids. Where is their mother? Is she dead?

It didn’t seem to have much of a plot. The second sister, Treena, played by Latonya Williams, who I have really liked in other productions especially A Glenbrooke Christmas, and her husband are about ready to adopt a baby boy. I think one of those kids may be theirs as well. The younger sister discovers she is pregnant and is struggling to tell her boyfriend. Meanwhile, he is struggling to propose to her. I think she has a child too. The best scene in the movie was when he was trying to propose while she almost throws up on him. Luckily he manages to propose to her before she tells him she is pregnant so we don’t have to go into all that “He only wants to marry me because I’m pregnant” scenario.

There is no real focus to the movie. We are just plopped down in the middle of this rich, nice, beautiful family and we just soak all the perfection in. There are some blips: The kids trying to get a reclusive neighbor to come out of his house, The family matriarch is stuck in Utah by an avalanche (while on a ski trip-of course), and the adoption is falling through. But it’s all unconnected. There is also a Christmas miracle at the end involving Jacquie’s pregnancy and it is as much a miracle as a Virgin Birth would have been. So that was Christmassy. I think I am really interested in seeing the first and second in this trilogy, but probably not The Liddle Family Christmas Vacation, if there is one.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

December 30, 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

A Glenbrooke Christmas

Autumn and Latonya Shine in This. More Latonya, Please.

This was an adequately entertaining Hallmark, and as such, I was a little disappointed because I really expect the best from Autumn Reeser. Also, Antonio Cupo looked super hot and perfectly cast as the fire chief she falls for. I also like the poor little rich girl trope as well. Autumn plays Jessica, a powerful and wealthy businesswoman who is soon to completely takeover her Grandfather’s real estate company. Before her life gets even more consumed, she decides to visit the small town of Glenbrooke, a place that her beloved late parents held dear. She hides her position and wealth so she will be treated like a normal person. As she settles in, she learns the famous Glenbrooke Church Bells are broken and the town can’t afford to fix them. Of course, the needed $10,000 is chump change to her, but she doesn’t want to reveal her wealth. Especially since Antonio Cupo hates rich people.

First of all, Mr. Fire Chief got off to a bad start with me by yelling at nice Autumn for something that was totally his fault. He jay-walked out in front of her car without looking and blamed her for not paying attention! Grrrrrrrrrr. He was sexist and entitled as Mr. Small Town VIP. He got better, then reverted to type again near the end, where he accused Autumn of the same bad behavior he was guilty of. Latonya Williams was adorable as Ruthie, another firefighter, who tells Antonio a few home truths at the end. Overall it was good, although not problem-free, in addition to Mr. Fire Chief’s character flaws.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 14, 2020

Sweet Mountain Christmas

Pretty Bad.

I guess I expected a bit more effort to support Megan Hilty, a fairly high profile singer-actress. I was disappointed in the writing as Greg Rossen has penned some of my favorite Hallmarks. And Lifetime movies are usually a bit of a cut above. Neither the plot nor the motivations of the MCs or the townspeople made sense. Instead of welcoming their home town star, they turned a cold shoulder to her when she was trying to be involved in helping the community. If your town is in trouble, here is a hint. Be nice to the famous and rich superstar who is coming home for a visit. If they were trying to be loyal to their beloved mayor and ex-boyfriend of our star, that’s wack too. He was the one who stood her up, not the other way around. I did not understand the lack of communication(do I ever?). They should have done a better job with Laney’s character arc, which was non-existent. She was nice (if understandably busy) from beginning to end. All in all a cookie cutter assembly line effort complete with a “cute” popcorn fight instead of the usual cliché snow-ball fight. I expect to roll my eyes a bit during a Hallmark-type movie, but cringing is a no-no.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 3, 2019

Love on the Menu

Delicious!

This is how it’s done, Hallmark. Good Job! When you have two engaging and attractive leads who are good actors and have good chemistry, it already puts it far ahead of the majority of Hallmark offerings. Bravo Autumn Reesor and Kavan Smith. Add an interesting inside look at restaurant goings-on and an agreeable restaurant (and chef) makeover plot and you have a definite winner. Kudos to the beautiful and authentic food photography. The love story is built slowly and realistically. The leads did not have silly misunderstandings or antics. When there was a bit of conflict at the end, it was resolved quickly with a very nice groveling scene and a deserved abject apology. There was a tough boss who turned quite evil at the climax for some drama and tension.

I also want to compliment the wonderful young actress who played our hero’s teenage daughter. Jordyn Ashley Olson is lovely and a very promising young talent. Latonya Williams also adds sparkle, as usual.

I only mark it down for two aspects. The gourmet breakfasts that our chef-hero cooked for his daughter and were meanly rebuffed by her were so over the top, the scenes were cringe-inducing. Also, the ending was a little sudden and needed another scene to tie the loose ends up nicely. Maybe they are planning a sequel. I’m in.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 3, 2019

Christmas Pen Pals

Great Casting and Acting Count for a Lot

Despite the female lead (Sarah Drew) being extremely unlikable and annoying at the beginning, this turned out to be one of the best of the Christmas entries in the Hallmark sweepstakes this year. Probably because it’s not really a Hallmark, but on Lifetime. They use the same actors and writers and probably directors, but they always seem to be just a cut above the Hallmark movies.

The plot had a lot of holes and had some questionable elements. Almost the whole town agrees to be matched up to a pen pal by one woman postmaster? What are her qualifications? How does she go about this? How does she handle last-minute entries? Do they just get the dregs? How will Hannah and Sam work out the logistics of their coming marriage? How will she incorporate and sell people on the idea of writing letters before meeting face to face per her failing app/ social media company? Will Sam ever follow Hannah’s advice and get WiFi for his coffee shop? These burning questions and probably more go unanswered.

This movie ended up high on my special Hallmark rating scale because of good acting and appealing actors and actresses. Especially the male lead and Hallmark veteran, Niall Matter. My, was he appealing and had great chemistry with Sarah Drew. Michael Gross of Tremors and Family Ties added his veteran acting chops. The cast of secondary characters was exceptional. A special shout out to Latonya Williams who lit up the screen with her smile.

By the end, there were 6 match-ups that had some potential. Great job, Santy Claus… uh…Madam Post Master!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

December 16,2018

Road to Christmas

Some Special Touches

Very pleasant. Nothing super special, but nothing to make you want to throw your remote at the TV set either. The acting was definitely above average by Jessy and Chad Michael Murray. I like the actress who played the mother, Teryl Rothery. She is in many Hallmark films and always very reliable. I liked the plot with the three adopted Brothers finally reunited as a surprise for Christmas. It added an emotional Depth that’s been missing in many of these Hallmark Christmas stories. I love the graphics that showed the journeys of the two protagonists! One normally does not see such creativity and cuteness in a Hallmark movie. It took me by surprise.

One final comment that I hope isn’t too mean but just needs to be said. Jessy Schram has lost way too much weight and looks a good bit worse for wear. If she’s been sick I hope she gets better soon because she really is a top-notch Hallmark actress.**7 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 1 out of 5.

November 7, 2018