Just One Kiss

Too bad They’re All Not This Good-but then, It wouldn’t be Hallmark.

I knew this was going to be a 10 out of a 10 in the first 10 minutes. The dialogue was sharp and witty from the get-go. The stars were appealing and didn’t have the usual GQ male model vibe for the male or beauty pageant runway vibe for the female. Upon our first meeting with the striking Mia, an English professor, she is delivering a bitter cynical lecture on romantic poetry. Two students comment on her diatribe: “Professor Rivera needs a date.” …” Or a drink!” The girls make a few more appearances throughout the movie with their astute conclusions on the state of her love life going by the tone of her lecture. Very cute. We learn she is on her way to her lawyer to divorce her too handsome husband. He is 90 days sober but was a lying alcoholic who lost their house. He wants her back. And her tween daughter wants them back together too. She meets cute (a couple of times) with our leading man who is handsome but in a normal guy kind of way instead of looking like he just stepped out of a Vanity Fair ad. He is a lounge singer (now isn’t that an unusual profession for a Hallmark hero!?) and the music is wonderful. He is a bit of a flirt and plays the field but thanks to his conversations with a good friend and bartender we know he is a good guy and a keeper.

Despite her suspicious hostile attitude toward love and romance they bond over a love for old movies and he gradually thaws her icy sarcastic façade. The romance is facilitated by their two mothers who meet in the movie theatre the two frequent and know they would be perfect for each other. “He likes her! And she HATES him!… It’s perfect!”

Despite being wisely advised and cheered on by her best friend and his husband, all does not go smoothly in their enemies to friends to lovers journey. Mostly thanks to her jerk of an ex-husband and the inevitable misunderstanding with 20 minutes to go. I loved the unusual-for-Hallmark creative touches. The authentic New York vibe, the black and white dream sequences, the songs, the Greek chorus-like moms and the two female students, and even the original movie poster (not pictured but you can still see it on IMDb as of this writing)!

There is a cute twist at the end that was telegraphed early and often, and it just added one more unusual touch to the whole wonderful production. The cast of fresh faces have outstanding resumes, including Illeana Douglas. There were a few Hallmark veterans (Matty Finochio, David Ruttle, and Peter Benson in a short cameo.) and to my surprise, this was written by a veteran Hallmark writer. They must have told her to “do the opposite of what you think we want” or something. A movie like this is one of the reasons I doggedly look at almost every Hallmark movie. In addition to the crazily predictable and boring, there’s always a chance they shock with a truly excellent romantic comedy.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 3, 2022

Welcome to Mama’s

Where’s the Pizza?

Isn’t there a saying somewhere to “Never eat at a restaurant called “Mama’s”? Or is that “Mom’s”?

Long after “Papa” “left us”, “Mama” has also passed away and left her restaurant to Amy, a young friend and former manager of another restaurant, whom she used to take care of and mentor. Her will stipulates that Frank, the current head chef, retain his position. Mama’s (husky-voiced Lorraine Bracco) story is told in flashbacks in between the present-day story of trying to save her legacy. Her restaurant was struggling when she retired and it has been in a death spiral under the care of Frank. He was fired from his last job for refusing to comply with his boss’s menu. When Mama agreed to let him be in charge of what he cooked, introducing new dishes to her beloved if tired menu, it didn’t exactly overwhelm the critics or the clientele. His answer is to put a noisy arcade game in the dining area as if it were a sports bar. So no, Frank isn’t exactly God’s gift to chefdom or humanity for that matter. But boy, he acts as if he is. When Amy, the new owner comes in to take over, he is uncooperative and pissy. He refuses to follow his boss’s (Amy’s) orders which got him fired from his last job (he lied to Mama that he had learned his lesson in order to get hired). He also goes behind her back to interview with another restaurant telling his friend he will use his new recipes at Mama’s as a testing ground and then leave if he gets the new position. When Amy finds out that Frank wasn’t honest about what a flop his creations were with an influential critic, she tells him she is replacing his menu and hands the changes to him. He doesn’t even check it out and preps his own menu which causes havoc on the soft opening. In short, Frank is an incompetent louse and not the sharpest knife in the drawer either.

Now you may well ask, why doesn’t Amy fire his sorry A**? Why does she fall in love with him? Why is Amy, a qualified manager such a wuss and give him chance after chance? Why is the restaurant called “Mama’s Ristorante and Pizzeria” when they don’t serve Pizza? Why were Mama and Papa called “Mama” and “Papa” when they didn’t have any kids? Ask away, but I’m afraid I can’t help you. Now this wasn’t all bad. The cinematography was great, the food looked delicious, the acting was tolerable, but the looming shadow of bad (but very cute-I’ll give him that) Frank was just too much to overcome.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 28, 2022

The Wedding Veil Legacy

Last but not Least

The script was not a challenge for good actors: no great emotional highs and lows, but the whole cast of seasoned Hallmark actors did an excellent job. All handled the good humor and banter with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed Matty Finochio as the assistant, Stanley.

Tracy, played by Alison Sweeney, the third woman in the triumvirate of Wedding Veil owners begins her story by breaking up with her boyfriend, Finn. It is handled very maturely. He has gotten a great job across the country, and Tracy does not want to leave New York or her own great job. They are sad to part ways, but as we have gathered from the previous two installments, they have grown apart lately anyway.

Tracy takes the veil to a tailor(?) to have a snag repaired and meets Victor Webster getting fitted for a tuxedo. There is some good-natured raillery. Allison is planning an important party for her job and is in the market for a new caterer. Her search brings her to a new restaurant accompanied by Autumn and Lacey. Lo and behold Victor is the head chef and part-owner with his family. The meeting between the women and Victor is chuckle-worthy thanks to the three actresses’ comic timing and easy rapport.

The side story of Tracy’s mission to obtain a newly discovered early draft of the famous Emma Lazarus poem for the museum where it can be enjoyed by the public is interesting. It adds some suspense and provides the pretext (Victor might know an investor), along with picking out art for the new location of Victor’s restaurant, fun with food, and rug hauling around, for the promising couple to spend more time together. Alison and Victor make a good pair both age-wise and in physicality.

Unlike the second installment, the plot is tightly written. There are quite a few little stories, but the focus remains on the couple and their developing relationship. Every individual side element gets tied into the whole, including the Emma Lazarus poem welcoming immigrants to America. The continuing mystery of how the veil got to San Francisco is well incorporated into this final chapter and provides a satisfying conclusion involving a lovely coincidence and a twist. After the veil does its job of finding husbands for the three likable friends, it finds its own happy final home.

Of the three movies, I rank the first one the best for its humor, this one second for the well-constructed plot, and the second one my least favorite. 7 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 21, 2022

Merry In-Laws

Enjoyably Screwball

A young mother from a scientific background who abjures anything fantastical gets herself engaged to Santa Claus’s son. And she doesn’t even like Video Games. This was cute, funny, and a nice romance. It was interesting to see Lucas Bryant in a more light-hearted role. Lately he has been playing the sullen, strong, silent types. Shelley Long was way over the top in my opinion, but I couldn’t help laughing. Also there were a few truly badly behaved, even hateful characters (her father) in this one which added some tension to the comedy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 20, 2020

Jingle Bell Bride

Above Average

Pretty good. Julie Gonzalo was charming and funny and I liked that they incorporated her Latino heritage into the character. I usually appreciate it when there is more going on than just the love story, and this one brought in her professional life and challenges. I like the tension with her coworker trying to steal her client when she got stuck in Alaska. A Sweet love story and I was actually a little moved at one point.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 2, 2020

Holiday Date

And for Something a Little Different…

This is a genuinely amusing little variation on the usual Hallmark template. It starts off with all of the clichés in place: Nice girl gets dumped before the holidays when she is expected to bring the dumper to meet the family for the first time. she can’t bear the humiliation or to disappoint them so she falls in with a plan to substitute an actor to impersonate the architect “Mr. Christmas” ex-boyfriend. He is a born and bred New York City actor who is anxious to visit a small town to get a feel for a role he is up for. One problem. He is Jewish and can’t even build a gingerbread house. The chemistry between the charming leads was great, there was some ample support from veteran actors Bruce Boxleitner and Teri Rothery. And the talented Anna Van Hooft, who usually plays the villain in Hallmark movies, does a credible job in a throwaway part as the supportive sister, for a change. And let’s not forget the contribution by a Hallmark stalwart Peter Benson as the brother-in-law and all of his helpful advice.

This was a nice romance with some good laughs fueled by the tension of when will the truth come out, and what will happen then, and the cluelessness of fake fiancee Joel, played with aplomb by newcomer Matt Cohen.

One of the best this year. Hallmark Christmas movie fans: Don’t miss it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 16, 2019

Bridal Wave

Dynamic Duo in a Valentine’s Treat

Spoiler alert to follow the letter of the law only. Come on, this is Hallmark: We all know how this is going to go down.

Arielle Kebbel and Andrew Walker team up again for another Hallmark Romance after 2012’s highly rated (for a Hallmark!) “A Bride for Christmas.” I didn’t think I’d like this at first because the heroine was too gorgeous and the story was crazy predictable. The characters were even more so. Stodgy but successful workaholic fiancé? Check. Snobby disapproving future mother-in-law? check. Cute rebel outside the lines rival for her hand? Check. Nice middle-class family of the bride worried that their oldest daughter is going to become an “Old Maid”? Check. Arielle, however, proved to be down-to-earth, irreverent, and funny. The script served her well. She was surprisingly relatable despite her beauty. The hero was very attractive with a lot of charm. Jaclyn Smyth added nothing. Still beautiful, she obviously has had some work done, but still looks fairly natural. She should have been more evil to get that tension and suspense ratcheted up a bit . Nice “One Year Later” epilogue: Very Sweet with some amusing little touches.**8 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 20, 2015