Noel Next Door

A Good Start to the Season

And so it begins. This offering is the official kick-off to Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas. By December 18th, there will be a total of 31 Christmas movies, and this does not include 9 more that will be showing on Hallmark’s Movies and Mysteries. Some will be awful, most average, and some really good. But one thing’s for sure, there will be more diversity than ever. Not only with age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation but culturally as well. Kwanzaa and Hanukkah will be celebrated and 2 Chinese celebrations will be featured. For those who like to keep that kind of thing to a minimum, you can head on over to GAC along with Candace Cameron Bure, Danica Mckellar, Jen Lilley, and Trevor Donovan. In addition, Lifetime will have an additional 15 Christmassy contributions with a little more edge to them and probably even more diversity.

Anyway back to Noel Next Door. It was excellent. A youngish recently divorced mother who works in a diner meets a handsome partially paralyzed stroke victim who is sweet and kind (he gives her a 200% tip on his takeout order) and they are instantly attracted to each other. Her name is Noelle. Yes, really. Meanwhile, her tween son has several run-ins with the neighborhood scrooge who has recently moved into the neighborhood.  In addition to insisting the condominium complex take down their Christmas tree, slamming his door in the faces of some little kid carolers, and walking around with an angry disgusted face all the time, he yells at and threatens young Henry who continually kicks his soccer ball against the wall of his condo. Noelle’s son is a nice boy at home but does have a bit of a bratty side. In other words, he acts like a real kid. Little do the two know, while they fall in love, that he is actually the Christmas-hating neighborhood grouch with an anger management problem, and she is the incompetent mother of a mean little punk.

The tension builds throughout the movie in anticipation of the two neighbors meeting in person and discovering each others’ true identities. Meanwhile, they grow more and more attached and happy with each other. It is handled very well, as the big moment doesn’t come until about the 75% mark and their reactions are pretty hilarious and well-acted. In addition to her work, her son, and her new relationship, Noelle has to deal with an ex-husband who is a one-man asshole parade. He threatens her with a lawyer when she won’t surrender her court-appointed Christmas day with young Henry to him and his mistress at their old home. There is some blind date comedy (Are you one of those people who believes our planet is round?) and some heart-tugging moments as well.

Both Corey Sevier and Natalie Hall were terrific. I still don’t like Natalie’s hair and makeup, but she did well in a more mature down-to-earth role than she is usually given. Joanna Douglas plays her sister and she was lovely and appealing as always. She needs to be given a lead role with Hallmark if she is even interested. Corey had the difficult job of being a bit of a jerk on one hand, and a sympathetic romantic lead on the other. It didn’t hurt that they had a good script to work with. It dealt with serious situations with a nice blend of comedy, drama, and romance along with a good message and plenty of Christmas Spirit to spare.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fly Away with Me

Happy or Homeless?

Natalie Hall has never been a favorite. Many Hallmark actors have changed my opinion in the past, so I always try to go in with an open mind, but I have not yet been able to warm to her. Unfortunately, Hallmark seems to really like her and plugs her in whenever “antics” are called for and one of the older more mature actresses would be awkward and unsuitable. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but her acting seems a little forced and unnatural. She seems to be trying too hard, and that carries over to her overdone hair, make-up and clothes. This one did surprise me by having her wake up in bed in the morning with minimal or no makeup still on her face. So props there.  

This is about Angie and Ted who rent in a desirable apartment complex that is strictly pet-free. Ted is babysitting a cute dog for his sister, and Angie has a parrot fly onto her balcony on her first day. The rest of the movie is about helping each other hide their pets from the kind of creepy female apartment manager. In the meantime, Angie is trying to find the parrot’s owner or at least a good home for the bird. Some more things are going on as well. Ted is an air traffic controller who has failed at getting his pilot’s license. Which gave me pause. I mean, 14-year-olds have pilot’s licenses.  I mean, fun fact, even Andy Griffith’s Aunt Bea had one.  Angie is very successful at her job in the television industry where her boss who is also her ex-boyfriend is trying to get back with her. But she wants to be a script writer which she is terrible at, by the way. Partially because she keeps setting her “scripts”, which read more like short stories,  in the jungle. Meanwhile, the apartment manager keeps hanging around because she has a crush on Ted and keeps snooping around making it difficult to hide the dog and the parrot. Ted and Andy are attracted to each other right away but avoid, for some unknown reason, any romance or physical contact. They almost kiss once, but break apart when she hears a ding on her phone, and, thus discouraged, never attempt it again until the very end.

Angie quits her job because she wants to concentrate on writing and her boss, Kyle, is being a d*ck. Her goal seems to be finishing a script, not selling one. How is she going to pay for rent and food without an income? Angie and Ted get found out and Angie is evicted. Ted also volunteers to be evicted in solidarity but not before Angie thinks he betrayed her resulting in the big misunderstanding. Reconciled, they end up flying away in Ted’s plane off to the jungle, leaving the tight Chicago rental market behind them. So Ted has his pilot’s license but has abandoned his job, and unemployed Angie has an unsold script. I predict tough times ahead. Because no one is buying that stupid script.  The actor who played Ted was not bad. The apartment manager, Gineen, was very good (and gorgeous), and it was great to see Kathryn Kohut as Angie’s best friend again. She was the best thing in Feeling Butterflies as Mandy, the rival butterfly wrangler. Time for a promotion to head girl, in my opinion. And while Ted and Angie are flying off into the wild blue yonder and probable homelessness, the movie ends with an amusing scene back at the apartment building.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

October 2, 2022

Road Trip Romance

Not Dreadful, but Very Very Average

Which is almost worse than dreadful.

I’m getting to be able to judge if I am going to like a Hallmark( 8, 9, or 10 stars) by the amount and application of make-up the head girl is wearing. Natalie Hall’s foundation and eyelashes were thick and ever-present, therefore I didn’t like this one. As unflattering and aging as a lot of make-up is, at least it was understandable at the beginning when she was pitching her company to a potential client. It’s not like this was a ranch-girl part. But why the next day, when she was off the clock in a small town or alone in a car with someone she supposedly doesn’t like? I mean, how long does it take to put false eyelashes on?

Natalie meets an ex-high-school rival in the same distant city while they are both competing for the same contract. And their companies sell the exact crazy thing: very niche mechanical party favors. What are the odds? I guess the same as two rivals both being butterfly wranglers for parties and having their parties right next door to each other at the same time. Even though they are both at least in their 30s, they, at least Natalie, are still nursing their petty high-school grudges.

After their business is concluded they both have to fly back to Hometownsville. She for her sister’s wedding, he for his Dad’s retirement barbecue. The flights have all been canceled. Road Trip! Forced propinquity! Hate to Love! That’s all folks!

A couple of highlights: Along the way, their car break-eth down, and they are force-eth to attend-eth a Rennaisance Festival in a small town, sleep-eth in a tent (no s’mores thank God), and deal-eth with a mechanic who won’t fix-eth their car because it’s a Renaissance festival and they didn’t have-eth cars in the Renaissance.  Natalie, the maid of honor, misses all of the festivities and her maid-of-honor duties and almost misses the wedding. The bride’s ”best friend”, who is a dead ringer for Joyce DeWitt of Three’s Company,  is corralled into taking over for Natalie, and she likes it a little too much. When Natalie finally arrives, Joyce tells her the wrong church and leaves her with the wrong dress. Wow.

Natalie seems to be a favorite with many and seems to be the go-to girl when a  young(ish) lead is needed. I am not a fan. I do like Corey Sevier, who plays a bit of a nerd. He has the best line in the movie, “When the real men were huntering and gathering, I always preferred to stay at home and read about it.”

Rating: 5 out of 10.

May 20, 2022

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 workhorses 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. Pro 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 10.

March 9, 2021

The Seven Year Hitch

A Waste of a Good Idea Which is Getting Few and Far Between at Hallmark


Two lifelong friends might have a romantic future despite the disparity in their levels of maturity and success in life, and the fact that she is engaged to another man. This was a good idea for a romance, but the plot was wasted on a nondescript leading lady, wasted opportunities, and failure to take advantage of the considerable talents of Frances Fisher and George Wendt.

Natalie Hall is pretty enough under all that makeup (even on her daily run in the park?) but she brings nothing to the table as far as charm or charisma. Honey, you’re still young (even now, 8 years later) and have nothing to hide. Let that fresh beauty shine through. Her acting is not bad, but it’s nothing to write home about either. The smarmy boyfriend is well-portrayed by a Ray Liotta look-alike. He certainly does his job making him hateable. Darin Brooks is appealing and perfectly cast as Jennifer’s lifelong best friend and love interest, Kevin.

As far as the writing goes, I can’t help but think some scenes were cut or never written in due to time considerations. There was an inexplicable time jump right to the rehearsal dinner of at least 3 or 4 months. Bad pacing. The lovable best friend is called a parasite by the mean fiance and although this was harsh, in truth, he is absolutely right. Cute and “merry-hearted” he may have been, but he was not much of a match for Jennifer who had an important and prestigious career. He didn’t even graduate from college with only 6 credits to go! Come on, dude! He is pretty much a lazy loser and moocher throughout the movie and that is not a good look for the “hero.” A little ambition to go along with his kind, fun-loving sweet persona, would have made his character more admirable.

Although the cheating jerk of a fiancé did get dumped at the end, the scene was wasted. He needed to be publicly exposed (especially in front of his boss, the wonderful Frances Fisher) in a dramatic and delicious scene or two. Or three. He needed a major and humiliating takedown. Instead, the reason for his downfall was because he couldn’t name Jennifer’s favorite color? And a fib about where he got the engagement ring? She was mad because he didn’t get it for free from his granny and instead shelled out thousands of dollars for the biggest rock in the jewelry store? Wut? THIS is why she broke up with him instead of learning he was a serial cheater as well as acting like an evil controlling selfish S.O.B. from his first scene to his last?

The setup and idea for this one were good, but it was poorly executed and would have been so easy to fix. It’s a shame.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

August 1, 2020

You’re Bacon Me Crazy


I don’t feel this couple was very well matched. Beside looking very much younger than Michael Rady, the character of Cleo acted like an immature and spoiled High School girl as opposed to Gabe, who responded to her antics in a mature level-headed way. She pulled a dirty trick on him by ordering all that food she didn’t need while she could see that he was being slammed. What a brat! And then, when he successfully delivered it, he didn’t even charge her for it. Did she even apologize? I don’t remember. And then, when he offered to drop out of the competition, she had a tantrum because he was being egotistical instead of taking it kindly the way it was meant. Was he being egotistical? Maybe. but so what? That was his problem.

I’ve always liked Michael Rady, but have been unimpressed by Natalie Hall. She is just another over made up pretty face, and brings nothing special to the table. The story was actually pretty interesting and I did like that there were no big misunderstandings. A nice epilogue at the end further justified the half-hearted “7” that I gave this effort.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 8, 2020