A Fabled Holiday

Pretty Packaging

I wavered between a 7 and an 8 for this one. I liked the trappings and the framing of the story but the basic plot of strangers coming together to repair what is wrong with their lives was tired. None of their arcs had a lot of substance or originality. Or, failing substance, humor, suspense, drama, or engaging romance. On the positive side, it did have Brooke D’Orsay and Ryan Paevey as the main couple. Their performances were charming as usual.  I like them separately, and they were OK together, but just OK. Maybe they are both just too nice to generate much romantic tension with each other.

It all starts out with a little girl and her father reading a fairy story about a magical town called Wunderbrook. Sadly the Dad dies and the little girl and her mother move away. Before she goes, she gives her storybook to her best friend Anderson and she promises to send him her stories as she writes them.

When next we see her, she owns a bookstore. Her aspirations to be an author have died on the vine due to her lack of self-confidence and fear of failure. Meanwhile, we catch up on her childhood friend Anderson who is now a surgeon who is questioning his calling due to losing a patient. We also meet a married couple who have grown apart and are on the verge of divorce and an old man who is very lonely since his beloved wife died.

Through various magical means (a detour on a road, a wrong number, getting lost, and a flooded basement) they find themselves together in Wunderbrook. It is the magical town of the storybook come to life. It turns out that they all had the book as children, but for some reason, it is only Brooke that starts to make the connection between the story and the real-life town they find themselves in. She is poopoo-ed throughout the whole movie, almost. As they spend time with the owners of the B&B and their daughter (really the King, Queen, and Princess), and the other denizens of the place, including the wicked witch, they start to get cured of what ails them. The hostile bickering couple starts to repair their marriage and the old man finds a friend in the owner of the bar/restaurant who is also bitter and lonely (the witch.) The two childhood friends start to fall in love as well as, in the end, get over the fears that are holding them back from fulfilling their dreams. It all comes together at the end with not only our friends on a happy road to love and success but Wunderbrook itself being saved, thanks to a certain aspiring writer.

Their individual stories of love and learning are told by a storyteller as if they were characters in a storybook. This was a new path for Hallmark to take and I liked and appreciated the creativity. Christmas Magic is a common trope but usually has to do with Santa and time travel. This was something quite different and, again, I appreciated it. Unfortunately, they forgot to find engaging stories to put in all that creative framing. It was, to paraphrase one of Brooke’s publisher’s rejections, “cute” but not entirely enough for me.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Two Tickets to Paradise

I Like Her Again

I used to be a huge Ashley Williams fan. Her perky cheerful demeanor really energized many of the Hallmarks she starred in. I just couldn’t help smiling whenever she came on the scene. Then I got a little tired of her. Instead of perky, she came across as over-caffeinated and exhausting. Instead of cheerful, she came across as manic. And she started to wield that mega-watt smile like it was a weapon. So I approached this latest Ashley Williams vehicle with caution. I did look forward to how she would pair with one of my fave Hallmark actors Ryan Paevey.

I would like to renew my membership to the Ashley Williams fan club, please. At least on a movie-to-movie basis. She plays a happy bride who is dumped the morning of her wedding. Sitting on the floor of the church toilet stall Boo-Hooing hysterically with Mascara running all over her face, she was hilarious. I never liked her more. “I never should have forced him to watch The Sound of Music!!!!,” she wails to her mother and sister frantically pounding on the bathroom door.  Out she tumbles from the window of the church in full wedding regalia and meets Ryan Paevey, who has been similarly dumped. They engage in some banter and Ryan talks her into going on her Hawaiian honeymoon by herself. She is taken under the wing of a sweet resort manager and starts having a good time. “ Mango-Lime Mimosa? Sounds Gross. I’ll take it!” Ryan later shows up at the resort himself (Are you following me?”). No, he has a good friend on the island and also needs a break. They become friends, go on adventures, start to recover from their trauma, and the inevitable happens. Yes, that. But also her ex-fiance shows up.

The dialogue was funny and the rest of the scripting was good too. Ryan and Ashley’s relationship develops naturally and they both experience a needed change of attitude towards how to approach life. Ashley really nailed both the comedy and the serious stuff and her good-humored rapport with Ryan was spot on. Yes her too famous for her own good grin was front and center, but somehow it was just fine. Great Scenery, well-played secondary characters, and topped off by a nice satisfying “One Year Later” scene. I love those.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

June 27, 2022

A Summer Romance

This is a rant about Make-Up. It is Not Really About the Movie.

Erin Krakow plays a ranch woman in this movie who applies her makeup like she is behind the cosmetic counter at Macy’s. She brags that she gets up at 5am to do the chores. And surely one of those chores is getting her face on. In general, I think most Hallmark actresses wear too much make-up. But at least many of the characters they play meet the public as shopkeepers, are on television, or have important jobs in big corporations where professional dress and at least an effort to show an effort to be well-groomed is part of the image you want to project.

But a woman who does physical labor all day outdoors? Who in an average day only meets her 2 employees and their little girl? Why the 3 shades of eyeshadow, lipstick, and heavy blusher? Wasn’t she afraid those false eyelashes put her in danger of toppling over into a haystack? What happened to false eyelashes that looked somewhat natural? The ones these days look like awnings and are so obviously phony they detract and distract rather than enhance. And she has the nerve to mock Ryan Paevey for his inappropriate outfits? And call him a city slicker? Look in the mirror, lady. And what’s with the tops that are so tight, she looks like she’s going to bust out of them any second? Again, OK for some professions, like weather-girl or presenter on ESPN, but a rancher?

We’ve all rolled our eyes at old-timey historical dramas where the actresses’ hair and makeup ignore the reality of the times and circumstances of their characters. Come on, Hallmark. This isn’t Death Valley Days or Bonanza. We know better now, don’t we? Many popular Hallmark actresses are rapidly approaching or have stepped over the 40-year-old mark. That is not a bad thing, unless they are dealing with circumstances more in line with a 25-year-old character. All the make-up does not disguise their age, it just emphasizes that they are trying to hide something. A natural fresh face=youth, to state the obvious.

Other than that, thanks to the gorgeous scenery and Ryan Paevey, this was a fairly pleasant diversion. Erin was OK. She is a pretty good actress despite her usual mannerisms. The plot was right out of the Hallmark “save the _______ from the big corporation” playbook.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 9, 2021

Christmas at the Plaza

The Lead Actress and Her Character are Lame in what is Otherwise a Top-Notch Hallmark

This one had a great setting (The Plaza in New York) and an interesting premise to hang the romance on. Jessica is at the iconic hotel to put together a history of “Christmas at the Plaza” and finds a theme in the fact that the Christmas tree every year at the Plaza has a different custom-made tree topper. She is missing a year, mysteriously, and her quest is to solve the mystery, and hopefully produce the long-lost topper. The love interest, the wonderful Ryan Paevey is this year’s hotel decorator. This also featured a last-minute secondary romance, which was touching. As a secondary character, Julia Duffy is a joy. We need to see more of her. She added humor and quirkiness to her lines, that a lesser actress would have done little to nothing with.

The one weak link was Elizabeth Henstridge, whose delivery was very blah, and gave the impression of low-energy and coldness. It wasn’t helped by her character’s tolerance of her boyfriend who was rude and thoughtless and obtuse. Even when the charismatic and attractive Ryan (can you tell I’m a fan?) shows interest in her, she just can’t be bothered to break up her two-year relationship until her hand is forced. And the laziness extended to the workplace. The character’s first reaction, when faced with the challenge of having to actually figure out her presentation on her own without it being handed to her on a silver platter, was to quit. Maybe another actress could have made her relatable and likable but Miss Henstridge, though very pretty, is not much of an actress. At All.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 28, 2019

From Friend to Fiancé

A Familiar Trope, but Hallmark Mixes it Up a Bit (!)

I am amazed by the poor reviews this one has gotten so far! I thought this was one of the better Hallmarks. The lead actress, though not super-great was more than adequate. And Ryan Paevey is a big favorite with me. This also had some surprising elements to it that moved it out of the usual very predictable Hallmark template. First of all the rival of our heroine, Jess, who is set to marry Jess’ best friend, Ted, was a high school mean-girl. As any Hallmark aficionado will predict, she will show her true colors, and prove herself to be the fiancé from hell. Our heroine will rescue her buddy from her evil clutches at the last minute and win his love for herself. But no! She has actually changed and is now really nice, if a little suspicious of Jess. Her instincts were correct. Jess has decided she is in love with Ted. We are teased a few times that mean Kimberley is going to emerge from her clever phony façade. But No! It is actually Jess’s stupid antics and non-stop lying to herself and others, that show Kimberley in a favorable and sympathetic light. It was getting to be the last 15 minutes of the movie, and I was cudgeling my brain as to how the writer was going to resolve this. It was shaping up to be another My Best Friend’s Wedding, which I knew was impossible because, come on, Its HALLMARK! They managed it thanks to Kimberley, who, in a faster that the speed of light last minute epiphany realized that she was just marrying Ted to prove that she wasn’t a mean girl anymore, and Ted realized that he wanted to marry Kimberley to prove he wasn’t the fat nerd anymore. It was actually pretty neatly done. The other things I liked were the voice over narration at the beginning and the end, Ted’s granny, Jess’ elderly adviser, and the rest of the secondary characters. So Kudos, Hallmark: try to step outside the box more often!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 27, 2019

Marrying Mr. Darcy

Well Done!

I think I enjoyed this one more than the first one, Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Loved the 2 leads, although Ryan Peavey’s role in this sequel was just to be loving and supportive. The acting of Cindy Busby and Frances Fisher was superb and took center stage here. Cindy really made you feel how torn Elizabeth was between people-pleasing and asserting her own dream of the wedding she wanted. You were with her every step of the way as frustration with Aunt Violet and the way she was subtly taking over the wedding plans built and built. On the other hand, Frances’ acting was such that one felt a little empathy for her point of view as well. You couldn’t really hate her too much. She wasn’t painted as the evil aunt like she was in the first one. You understood how much she loved Donovan Darcy and his sister, and knew that she meant well. And this was due to Fisher’s acting. Another actress might have made her the stock wicked witch character. I loved it when Elizabeth finally rebels during the choosing of the reception details and asserts her own authority. I loved Aunt Violet’s state of shock, and her appreciative “Well Done!” as Elizabeth storms off. The relationship of Jenna and her “Bingley,” Henry Robson, added a nice layer to the principal romance. They were down-to-earth and clear-eyed. They reminded me of the Carrie Fisher/ Bruno Kirby characters in When Harry Met Sally. The romance took second place to the drama of Elizabeth becoming acquainted with the realities of Donovan’s life and his responsibilities, her inner conflict, and the outward drama of Aunt Violet’s influence. And that was more than fine.**9 out of 10 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

June 4, 2018

Harvest Love

Nothing to Offer except Ryan Paevey

Nothing. Happens. Move on, Nothing to see here unless you are a Ryan Paevey fan, which on the strength of his charming performance in Unleashing Mr. Darcy, I am. Jen Lilley, the actress who plays the female lead is very pretty with huge eyes. Huge. Unfortunately, her performance is distracting to the max. I might attribute this to the vapid script, but she has a smile plastered on her face throughout the movie, usually accompanied by an irritating titter. Someone should do a spreadsheet on how often she completes a sentence by tittering. I doubt it was scripted. I understand her embarrassment, but she made a bad movie worse. Add to this, instead of real scenery we get fake backdrops that look like they have been painted on velvet by Thomas Kinkade. I gave it a 4 due entirely to Ryan Paevey’s futile efforts. Choose better next time, Dude. My patience will not last forever. **4 stars out of 10**

Rating: 2 out of 5.

October 7, 2017

Unleashing Mr. Darcy

Good Show. A Cut Above the Usual

I am a sucker for Jane Austen re-imaginings. It may explain why I liked this movie so much even in face of the terrible reviews. There were definitely some weaknesses in the plot. (Why didn’t Elizabeth immediately go to the principal when the father of the failing athlete tried to bribe her?) Oooh, he was really evil! I also didn’t understand the hostility of Elizabeth towards Donovan Darcy throughout most of the story. He was so adorable and nice! The main appeal of the movie for me were the two lead actors: Cindy Busby and Ryan Paevey. They were both really appealing and attractive with some great chemistry. Frances Fisher, who played the Catherine de Bourgh character was very hiss-worthy, which always adds to the enjoyment. I did enjoy the secondary characters, the Jane and Bingley type romance, and the dogs as well.**8 stars out of 10**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 27, 2017