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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 Hint of Love

A Winning Recipe

Dennis Andres shines in this entertaining and well-written TV romance. This is the second time I have seen him and he is even better in this one. He plays a cookbook author and blogger whose cooking is aimed at busy single fathers who want to serve up a home-cooked meal in less than 30 minutes. In order to expand his brand he gets hooked up with our heroine who is a Cordon-Bleu trained cookbook editor who specializes in high-end hoity-toity fare. Hilarity, conflict, and romance ensue.

As the down-to-earth rough around the edges hero, Will, Dennis Andres overflows with charm and appeal. He is attractive but not GQ male-model handsome. His line delivery is natural whether funny or heartfelt. A few times it sounded like he was ad-libbing his lines. I guess that means he is a good actor. As his love interest, Debs Howard is well cast with her patrician looks. Her character has a good character arc. At first, pretentious, snobby, and self-righteous (as Will tells her to her face), we learn that all is not what it seems on the surface. We find out she is from Albuquerque, her parents are down-home “just folks” and her abandoned dream is to open her own restaurant. The “opposites attract” chemistry between the two is right on and the kiss at the end was…yeah.

The script has some wit and good banter: “Who hates Nachos?! That’s like hating Freedom!” Couldn’t agree more. The initial hostility between the two food-lovers is well balanced. They are at odds but both have some good points in their arguments. They gradually get on the same page through compromise and listening. There is some good conflict from a snooty boyfriend to a weasel of a boss, and cheer-worthy good triumphing over evil scenes at the end.

I will definitely be looking forward to more TV romances with this talented new-to-the-genre actor. Hope he isn’t “discovered” too soon!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 3, 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

The Christmas Promise

What About the Leftovers?

This was a straightforward story of a young woman struggling to recover from the shock and grief of her fiancé getting killed during Christmas a year ago. She is provided tons of support and counsel by her “squad” of good friends and her father, ably played by Patrick Duffy. But it’s not until she becomes friends with the carpenter whom she hired to finish up her and her fiancé’s remodel of their old house that she begins to move forward. Also, in a nod to You’ve Got Mail and its predecessors, she pours out her heart one night via text message to her fiancé’s old cell phone # and she gets an answer. No, it’s not his ghost. This is not “Tales from the Crypt.”

There were some definite redeeming features in this show as well as some lazy writing that detracted from my enjoyment. First the positive. In a break with their usual policy of not showing dead former true loves (wouldn’t want anyone to get depressed during a Christmas movie) the doomed fiancé had a considerable role in this show. I liked this mature decision on the part of Hallmark, and they got a Hallmark familiar face (Giles Patton) to play him. I liked that Torrey DeVitto did not play the brave but po-faced grieving girlfriend. She was pretty cheerful and upbeat throughout. Although this might have been because of her lack of range, rather than a conscious creative choice. The carpenter/love interest was sexy and nice when he stopped coming across like a stalker. That awkward scene when he was in the Toy Store goofing around with the costumes trying to make Torrey laugh was just jaw-dropping. But he recovered. There is an adorable kissing scene towards the end which is one of the cutest and most surprising kisses I’ve ever seen on a Hallmark. Her friends and sister were loving but sometimes obnoxious, insensitive, and awkward in the face of the tragedy. I liked that. Just like real friends.

Now for the bad. Mostly, Torrey DeVitto had little to do in this acting-wise. But at the beginning, her reaction to the tragic and shocking news of her fiancé’s death was more like how someone would react to stepping on something disgusting. They mercifully cut the scene short and went right into “One Year Later.” Perhaps with another actress, they would have made a different choice. As part of her healing process, she goes to a field to decorate a lone Christmas Tree which is at least 50 ft. Tall. (Not like on the poster.) She puts a few ornaments on at a time. By the end, we have a scene showing the huge tree fully decorated with huge ornaments. How did she do that? Did she hire a crew and a cherry picker? Also, her sister has been cooking casseroles all year for her and Torrey has dozens of casseroles in the freezer. It’s kind of a running joke. One night, carpenter guy comes over, and she cooks them all at once! They’re sitting at the table with about 10 casseroles on it, and dipping into all of them! First, It must have taken her hours to cook all those. “Oh, you must try the Broccoli and Cheese-It’s delicious!” It made no sense. I was so concerned with what they were going to do with all those leftovers, it just took me right out of the movie.

Now, these were scenes that were not necessary to the plot or character development. You can just laugh and shake your head. But they show just slap-dash bad writing, directing, or editing and a lack of respect for your audience. So, a mix of the pretty good with the pretty stupid, but not enough good to entirely ignore the silly stuff.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

November 3, 2021 (My birthday!)

Raise a Glass to Love

Subtle Overtones and a Smooth Finish

I went into this one without too many high hopes. Wine has become the new desert food as far as Hallmark food themes go. Also, I have not been overly impressed with the female lead, Laura Osnes. She’s been OK, but just kind of  “meh.”  I liked her in this, and I loved the male lead, Juan Pablo Di Pace. His chemistry with Laura was definitely there, although in truth he would probably have had chemistry with a fence post.

This one centered around a  female character dealing with feminist challenges. Jenna is studying for her 3rd try at passing the notoriously difficult sommelier exam to become a master sommelier. In the United States, there are only 172 of which only 28 are women. One of these real-life women has a small but important role in this movie. The background provided was interesting and educational.

Jenna is the daughter of legacy vineyard owners and a lifelong wine lover. She has a long-term relationship with the owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant (Matthew James Dowden). Her dream is to become the restaurant’s sommelier. But to become qualified for that position, as in any Michelin-rated restaurant, she must pass her master’s exam. She goes home to her parents’ vineyard to study and meets our hero, her family vineyard’s innovative new Argentinian winemaker. As they spend more time together, she realizes that not only is she attracted to him but that his attitudes and dreams are more of a match to hers than her current boyfriend’s are. Aiden does not respect her opinion on wine and when his master sommelier quits for a better opportunity, he does not even consider her for the position. He apparently has no faith she will pass her master test. In a bit of a twist, when she finally lays all of her feelings and dreams on the table, he changes his mind and hires her whether she passes her test or not. This was actually pretty big for him. Despite this hiccup that separates the potential soulmates, it soon becomes clear that he still doesn’t trust or respect her judgment fully. He depends too much on outside validation such as diplomas and awards on the wine he wants in his restaurant rather than her infallible instinct and taste. His number one concern is the success of his restaurant. Ultimately, she realizes he is a follower, not a leader, and she rightly leaves him and her job. He wasn’t bad, or even wrong. They just did not have the same priorities. The reunion of the two wine lovers is romantic and even touching. They are a perfect match.

It is not rare that Hallmark champions women pursuing their professional dreams over romance (as long as they can have both), but this one was handled with more sophistication and subtlety than the usual Good vs. Bad Boyfriend trope. It added some complications, real-life challenges, and hard decisions that women are faced with when finding their best path to happiness and fulfillment.

P.S. Speaking of sophistication, kudos to the design team on the fresh approach to the promotional poster. Nice to see some whimsy for a change.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 24, 2021

A Twist of Christmas

I Want More Vanessa Lachey

Vanessa was a shining star in this one. She was funny and appealing. And those dimples! Her chemistry with the hero, who had a little bit of edginess to him, was really good. He was a bit of a jerk at first, which added to the dynamic between them, because she was not intimidated. Good solid plot and writing. If this is an example of Vanessa Lachey’s talents, I hope she becomes a regular for Hallmark or Lifetime. Whatever. Time to put some of the old warhorses out to pasture. Ooh. that was mean. But no names.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

December 9, 2018