A Vineyard Romance

Four Strong Performances and a Scene Stealer

I approached this one with not a whole lot of enthusiasm or hope. I’d never heard of the main actress before, and Marcus Rosner has never really stood out for me one way or another. I had just seen him in Love Stories in Sunflower Valley with an actress that I really do not like and I was unimpressed once again. He is very handsome, but not much personality. What a difference an easy rapport and chemistry with your co-lead can make! He was very engaging, entertaining, and even funny in this one. The lead actress was gorgeous in a fresh natural way that really appealed to me. They were a great match.

The movie got my attention right away when I learned Marcus Rosner was actually engaged to an internet influencer and our heroine was sent to do a piece for her magazine on their imminent wedding. They were exes and each thinks they were rudely and coldly ghosted by the other. We only know her side of the story at first, and she is understandably upset to find out that he is the prospective groom. When the love interest is set to walk down the aisle, it really raises the stakes on the tension and anticipation of what is to come. The dialogue and situations were fast-paced and funny. The secondary couple’s courtship was cute and involving. He is a widower and she is our heroine, Sam’s, best friend in the old hometown where the action takes place. The two have massive crushes on each other, but they are shy and scared. It was sweet.

But the star of the show is Leanne Lapp playing against type as the self-centered, shallow, and very bubbly fiancé. I have always liked her but she usually plays the supportive friend or sister to the heroine. I didn’t even recognize her at first. She is hilarious as the bride who is more concerned with getting her wedding perfect and publicized than the actual marriage. On top of that, she is angling to get Marcus away from the small town and vineyard (yes, there’s wine-always a plus) he loves and back to the big city she loves. Despite her machinations, such is Leanne’s take and performance of the character, we somehow still like her. When Marcus finally stands up to her and states the obvious, that they are not a good match, we are relieved for him and her. It was about time. Despite her being dumped she doesn’t have the expected meltdown but is a good sport about it. It was very refreshing.

All ends as it should for the two couples and Leanne, who is not exactly heartbroken. I hope this movie propels this talented actress out of the friend zone and into the lead role she deserves.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

02/22/2022

Five More Minutes

No Beer, Trucks, Guns, or Jesus

I approached this one with a lot of misgiving. I mean, a story based on a country song? By Scotty McCreery? But to my surprise, it was pretty good. Nikki Deloach, who is good as always, is a dedicated Art teacher who is losing her job and is having doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend. She wishes she could have just five more minutes with her beloved late Grandpa who always gave her great advice.

When she goes home to celebrate Christmas(?) Thanksgiving (?) I don’t remember, she finds a journal written by Grandpa when he was a young man detailing his first lost love.  She gets together with an old ex-boyfriend, and they decide to try to find her. Or was that another movie, Christmas Together with You?  They’re already starting to run together a bit. At the same time, a young man shows up for a job at her store because he said her grandpa was going to hire him. He turns out to be a wonder and is the best employee ever. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that something spooky is going on. There are lots of clues, which I’ll keep to myself.

Sherry Miller plays Bonnie, Clara’s mom, who lost her husband about a year ago. She looks great. I always think of the actress with fondness because she was in one of my favorite TV romcoms, This Matter of Marriage, back in the late ‘90s when she was a young whippersnapper. Highly recommend. She has her own romance along with her daughter finding love with her ex, Logan, and dumping her current beau. I liked that Bonnie did not approve of the ex, who behaved badly dumping Clara when they were teens, and kept giving him the stink-eye. She came around though.

There were a couple of things I did not like. Despite both Clara and Logan being established as Hallmark paragons of niceness, they both behaved badly. Logan kept putting the moves on Clara even after she said she had a boyfriend. And Clara totally dumped Logan and canceled an invitation for the family-less guy to spend Thanksgiving (?) Christmas (?) with her family just because he was called back to active duty. This was really low behavior and hardly patriotic or compassionate. Also contrary to the Hallmark ethos.  The third thing I didn’t like was the under-use of Leanne Lapp who played Clara’s sister and a favorite of mine.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 22, 2021

Heavenly Match

A Fresh and Wholesome Romance.

This is a delightful romance between two clergy-persons. Samaire Armstrong as Casey is battling sexism and some hostility among the board of trustees and her own feelings of insecurity and self-esteem. The actress who plays her is very attractive in a “girl next door” way and I liked her portrayal. Her love interest/colleague is played by Brendan Penny who is a reliable Hallmark stalwart. I do have a soft spot for romance involving clergy so full disclosure. I think it adds a certain tension and interest when the parties have to be responsible to a community and maintain a certain standard of behavior that their feelings and emotions might conflict with. The movie does not hit you in the head with Christianity, but also does not shy away from bringing Christian values and church politics(usually the opposite of Christian values) into the story. I was touched by some of the developments.

Adding to the enjoyment is the delightful Leanne Lapp as Casey’s secretary and supporter, Letoya Luckett-Walker as her fellow pastor and wise friend, and Jody Thomson as the supportive trustee. Not to mention Gabrielle Rose as the “baddie” who has a story of her own.

Highly recommend it for Hallmark movie lovers who are sick and tired of the stale Hallmark plot lines but who want a wholesome sweet romance with a little character growth, conflict and suspense. With more and more options to choose from with PixL and UpTV on the scene, Hallmark would be well-advised to stop taking their loyal audience for granted and provide some fresh material and casting as this one does.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 31, 2020

Love at First Bark

Boring and Banal

Love at First Bark is one of Hallmark’s more mediocre offerings. Other than some cute dogs and the odd dog-training tutorial, this one has nothing at all to recommend it. It is a very lazy effort with a cookie-cutter script and unremarkable leads. Usually one can find something to like in these things: a little unexpected twist, appealing actors, some cute lines, an old favorite star in a secondary role, some genuine chemistry between the leads, a villain you love to hate, a heart-tugging moment, etc., etc. This one was a complete waste of time.

The heroine is particularly annoying. She stubbornly refuses a handsome and sweet dog-trainer’s help in getting her new pooch under control until she finally changes her mind. She is very immature about her business and her love life. When she sees her new boyfriend who is obviously and unaccountably in love with her being nice to his ex-wife, she goes to pieces. He has outright told her he no longer has any interest in his ex and why. She sees his ex give him a smooch in the middle of a crowded party. Not a hidden alcove, a crowded party. This is so upsetting to her that she offends a valuable and much-needed client and petulantly breaks up with the dog trainer on the spot. She shuts him down when he literally begs her to listen. Very mean and unreasonable. He is very confused and doesn’t understand. She passive-aggressively tells him that she needs to focus on her new business (after she just dissed a potential client, mind you) and doesn’t have time for a relationship. Unfortunately for him, she apologizes soon after and he stupidly takes her back. That is all. As another reviewer noted, and adding to the irritating nature of this Hallmance, are Julia’s false eyelashes. They are so thick and long that she could literally sweep the floor with them. They deserve a cast credit of their very own. It gets 3 stars from me because the dog trainer/love interest (Kevin McGarry) was a super nice guy and very good-looking. The rest of the cast, including Leanne Lapp, was also very competent. **3 stars out of 10**

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

April 13, 2017

Ice Sculpture Christmas

Tolerable

This is a slightly above-average Hallmance which at least did keep my interest. I liked the ice sculpture theme and the setting in an acclaimed kitchen of a master chef both of which I found educational and interesting. The touch of villainy and rivalry with the sous-chef was balanced by the lack thereof with the boyfriend and the wisdom, fairness, and niceness of the head chef. Her romance with our heroine’s widowed father added a further touch of piquancy. Rachel Boston is always reliable, though I find her giggle distracting. Her romance with the boy she met briefly in childhood but never forgot was rather dull. Her misunderstanding of his relationship with his work partner was not understandable, so thank goodness, it was brief. I guess the reason I did not like the romance much was that I did not like the hero. First of all, his lack of height and too handsome face bothered me. I thought his behavior showed a lack of character. He let his partner shoulder all of the responsibility of meeting the very important proposal deadline while he was romancing Rachel. The romance should have waited. She wasn’t going anywhere. His stupid arrogant move in entering Rachel in the ice sculpture contest in the first place was just incredibly clueless (and she told him flat out not to and why!). After writing this, Maybe I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did! **6 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

November 16, 2015

Surprised by Love

Slinkys and Twinkies

This Hallmark non-holiday romance has all of the prerequisite Hallmark clichés: Stuffy boyfriend, quirky true-love, visit to well off but mean parents, heroine caught in the wrong career, and troubled sister. It manages to overcome them all, thanks to the whimsical charm of Paul Campbell as Quigley, and Tim Conway as the grandfather pretending to have dementia in order to escape being drawn into the various family dramas. The redemption of her parents is well done and accomplished with a slinky and a Twinkie cake. The secondary romance of the sister, played by Leanne Lapp, and her next-door neighbor and son of the Mother’s nemesis is a nice touch. The sister was tons more likable and interesting than the primary heroine and actually is more compatible with her love interest. But a match-up between them would not have provided the necessary “opposites attract” dynamic and her eventual character arc where she has her epiphany regarding her love life and her career. **8 out of 10 Stars**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 6, 2015