‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Great Googly!

I loved this! When I saw the previews, it was evident that this was definitely off the beaten track for Hallmark. The teaser featured what appeared to be a court case deciding the true authorship of the famous Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas staged as a play. A play within a play? And it was evident that there was a romance going on between two of the actors and maybe some ghosts? I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but it turned out to be a delight from beginning to end.

Torrey DeVitto plays Madison Rush, a successful actress who started off as a child star in a tv series whose catchphrase was “Great Googly!”. She is beloved for that role (people are always yelling “Great Googly!” at her). She is also loved for a romantic movie that she starred in with fellow actor,  Connor Avery. People still talk of their epic kiss in “Christmastime Cupid.”

Madison who is anxious to move forward from acting and into directing is in Troy New York for her first directing job. Her play is based on the mock trial described above. The trial was a real thing. It was held at the county courthouse in Troy in 2013 to determine the long-debated authorship of the 1823 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas: Clement C. Moore or Henry Livingston, a local gentleman farmer. the first trial resulted in a hung jury so it was re-staged the next year and the verdict was that Henry Livingston was the true author of the poem. I didn’t know any of this stuff! Troy’s history with the poem, The Victorian Stroll, the disputed authorship were all news to me, and I loved it! The Hallmark version of the trial, which uses the city’s annual Victorian Stroll (kind of a Victorian Renaissance Festival) as a backdrop for the movie, may or may not have a different verdict.  

In the movie, the play is funded by a rich guy in order to give his girlfriend Lena the starring role to jumpstart her ambition to be an actress. She is a rank amateur and hopeless as an actress. In fact, she can hardly read, let alone act! Also starring, is Madison’s leading man from their movie, Connor Avery, he of the famous kiss.

Madison tackles every challenge thrown at her during preparations for the play and there are plenty. She awakens the talent in Lena by giving her confidence in her abilities, deals with last-minute interferences from the producer, her agent needling her to go back to acting which is where the money is, and many more. The most challenging of the challenges though is the appearance of two mysterious actors who first show up at the Victorian Stroll in costume and then appear during rehearsals to play the two combatants Moore and Livingston. They take over the script but they are wonderful and take the play in a new and exciting direction. Madison bravely just goes with the surprise turn her production has taken. Unfortunately, they come and go as they please during rehearsals, don’t stick to any script at all, and leave poor Madison wondering when, or even if, they will show up for the actual performance.

The romance is drama-free and really nice. Madison and Connor like and respect each other and are half in love already (that kiss!) The relationship develops as Madison gets to know Connor’s young daughter who comes for Christmas. Connor respects and likes Madison for going after her dream of directing and is very impressed with the job she is doing despite the many challenges. Madison learns that Connor actually has a law degree and in turn is also very impressed. There is no doubt (is there ever?) that they are made for each other.

All of the actors in this gave superlative performances. The new-to-Hallmark actor who played Connor had charm and appeal to spare, the actors who played the two (spoiler alert!) ghosts of the two rival poets were wonderful, and the actress who played the terrible actress who comes into her own was also excellently terrible, and then not terrible. Her struggles had me on the edge of my seat. Though I must interject that the preview gave away an important plot point. Dumb. There was plenty of humor, intrigue, and suspense. The romance was not center stage in this one but added a sweet touch and a happy hopeful ending. I was happy to see a veteran Hallmark regular making an uncredited appearance as Connor’s mother. It’s getting to be a tradition, and I have started to expect these little welcome treats. In a rarity for Hallmark, one viewing will not be enough for me. I want to watch it again, knowing what I know now.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Fit for a Prince

So Bad It’s Almost Good. No, Not Really, It’s Just Bad.

Cindy Cordella is a seamstress at premier dress designer Rebecca’s dress shop. Little does anyone know that it is Cindy the Drudge who is doing all of the dress designing without proper recognition. Rebecca’s shop is hired to do the dresses for the wedding of the year that Prince Ronan is expected to attend. Cindy hopes that if she does a good job her loyalty will be rewarded. Prince Ronan visits the shop, meets Cindy, and they hit it off much to the displeasure of two jealous females. Does this sound familiar?

I guess someone there at Hallmark supposes that the narrow-chested, delicate, bland looks of the actor who played Prince Ronan convey an aristocratic aura because this is the second time he has played a prince. To me, he is miscast as a romantic lead unless it is in a romantic dark-horse underdog role. The testosterone is low in this one. And I don’t always prefer a Steve Bacic or a Ben Ayers, Kris Polaha, or Antonio Cupo. I also like sweet and funny types like Luke Macfarlane and Paul Campbell.

Now on to Natalie Hall. Apparently, Hallmark has decided that she is the go-to female lead when youth and prettiness are required. And when I say youth, I mean closer to 30 than 40 or 45. Unfortunately, she has little else to offer. She’s not bad but nothing to be especially worthy of scoring 6 Hallmark lead roles in 2 years. The usual Hallmark work-horses had better watch their backs even though most of them have more acting talent, charm, appeal, and charisma despite their age.

Others have pointed out many of the ridiculous plot points that abound in this disaster. Tip: Don’t eat greasy pizza while handling your dress materials. Tip: don’t roll your rack of dresses anywhere near a chocolate fountain. But their ballroom dance at the end was my pick for “most cringe-worthy scene.” It looked like a losing effort on Dancing with the Stars. I thought it couldn’t get worse until she broke into a solo routine that would have embarrassed famous bad dancer Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. I thought at one point she was going to drop to the floor and twirl around on her butt. The worst thing in the whole mess was the lack of resolution to the mismatch of how a King was going to unite with an ambitious workaholic partner in a global corporation. It’s scary to think this one might need a sequel.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

March 9, 2021

Christmas at Maple Creek (A Christmas Village Romance)

A Sweet Old-Fashioned Vibe

I really liked this one for some reason. Maybe it was the perfectly lovely actress that played the lead. Maybe it was her character’s sweetness and shyness. Maybe it was the old-fashioned atmosphere and the historical village setting. It almost had a YA vibe. I know for sure that Jake Epstein, who played the love interest is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, had a lot to do with it. So far, whatever he is in, I’ll give it a try.

Diana is a very successful romance novelist who has a crush on the guy who is the male model for her book covers but she really does not want to make a move. I think it’s mostly because she is shy and old-fashioned. If you immerse yourself in historical romance, it makes sense that you would tend to take on the attitudes of that time. She is basically being bullied by her editor to date him, which really annoyed me. The male model is clearly wrong for her because though he’s nice, he is not very smart, he’s shallow, is more interested in physical activities rather than more thoughtful pursuits. All he’s got is good looks and a good bod.

She decides to go to her hometown, which is a historical village like a very poverty-stricken man’s Williamsburg Virginia. Maple Creek is struggling and will soon have to be shut down unless they can up the attendance and make more money. There she meets a history professor (check) who is doubling as the town blacksmith (check, check) and is tall and good-looking in a down-to-earth way (check, check, check) I think we have our winner. He does not approve of the way she approaches history in her novels although he respects that she is a good writer. He teases her and is nice to her and soon she has come out of her shell and they have become friends with a lot in common. Plus, they are trapped in a storm together. Like something in a romance novel!

Of course, the male model shows up in the village, attracted more by the fact that she is not chasing him than by genuine affection and attraction to her, and the inevitable misunderstanding occurs with Carter. Seeing the two suitors together, she definitely knows which one is for her, and all proceeds to the happy ending for the couple and the village.

Jeni Ross is a perfectly lovely young actress and her chemistry with Jake Epstein was great. The only criticism I have is that she says her lines way too fast. The Gilmore Girls was canceled! Slow Down!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 15, 2021

A Veteran’s Christmas

A Cross Between “Get Out,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “White Christmas.”

I agree with the reviewers that point out the overall creepy vibe to this film. This has to be the gooiest super cheerful town in the United States. I kept waiting for Captain Super-Cute to discover the microchips in the backs of the necks. Starting with the young bachelor Tom Cruise look-alike judge who seemed like he was competing for Gilderoy Lockhart’s Most Charming Smile Award. Sean Faris, the actor, can’t help what he looks like, but he was obviously trying to channel the Scientology fave with the haircut and the constant smiling. He was very phony and came across as though he were hiding something evil. As did everyone in the town. Don’t get me started on Aunt Nellie and Judge Joe’s scary sister. When Captain Cutie finally escaped on the bus (“I’ll get my car later!”), the local “policeman” brought her back and took her to a house with all of the townspeople waiting for her. It had all the makings of the horror trope of the innocent virgin getting sacrificed by the local coven.

She almost got away…

If I didn’t know better I would think Hallmark was spoofing its own Christmas Movies and mocking their fans. This includes me, by the way. I’m not a hater. As I write this I am wearing my “Do not disturb. I am watching Hallmark Christmas Movies” socks. Oh. I forgot to mention my favorite part. Innocent virgin Marine Captain gets a knock of the head and has blood streaming down her face. She is lured to the isolated house of the judge by a dog. Tom Cruise takes her inside, and, while she is still streaming blood (wipe your face, girl!) applies antiseptic cream to her bloody wound without even washing her cut with soap and water or washing his hands. Blech! Come to think about it, maybe that’s when she got chipped.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

March 26, 2019