Six Degrees of Santa

Free the Tense

I will always prioritize movies that star Steve Lund, so I gave this a chance. Also, I wanted to exorcise the memory of the horror that was his other 2022 Christmas Movie in which Steve was dumped by the widow that wasn’t.

I liked the concept of this Lifetime movie and our heroine Steph’s personal Christmas project, Six Degrees of Santa. It’s kind of a Christmas gift chain letter. Santa#1 buys a gift that is meaningful to them and gives it anonymously to a stranger or a friend who in turn does the same. The sixth recipient gets to keep it. Steph’s own Santa#1 gift eventually reaches a tech mogul she despises. But he is touched by the gift which is a book that meant a lot to him as a child. He reaches out to Steph, who is easy to find because her project has gone viral with people all over the world. He wants to find the person who bought the gift originally, thinking that they will have a real connection because of the book they have in common. Steph wants nothing to do with him so she lies and tells him the original buyer is her shallow social media-obsessed next-door neighbor. She sets him up with her.

I loved Steve Lund in this but didn’t care for the actress who played Steph, or her character. Firstly, the choice of cosmetics for this movie did not suit her looks. I read her impressive bio, and Kathryn Davis appears to be a beautiful and multi-talented performer. I even liked her in another movie, but just didn’t care for her or her character in this one. Her delivery seemed anxious, tense, and high-strung. She talked in a too-fast staccato manner. I just wanted to tell her to calm down. As for her character, Steph’s whole relationship with Steve was based on a lie. She started to fall for him and see his true self underneath the surface, but wouldn’t tell him the truth. That premise for a plot is boring and is used far too often. Plus, her character is not too bright about how to make the most of her idea. She was blind and stubborn until the very end. Her mother accuses her of not being able to see the forest for the trees and she was absolutely right. It was too frustrating. I liked her family, including her ex-husband. Full disclosure: I fast-forwarded through much of this because I saw exactly where this was going and I didn’t have the patience for still another “just tell the truth!” plotline. Also, the premise that any single woman, let alone two, would not want to date a handsome billionaire who is also a nice guy played by Steve Freaking Lund was just too ludicrous.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Christmas Bedtime Stories

Just What is the Message Here?

**Spoilers**

Even though his body was never recovered, Danielle’s husband has been declared dead by the military. His jet was shot down in the middle of a large sea. Even if he survived the crash, there is no way he could have reached land. It was fully investigated by military intelligence and it was determined that there is no hope he survived. A young mother of an 8-year-old, she has turned the corner on her grief and has gotten engaged to her husband’s best friend, Pierce, who has been an unfailing support and a second father to her daughter. Her daughter wants her to tell her stories about her dead father to help her remember him. As Danielle starts to recount her history with Colby, her husband, she starts to see things (another soldier who resembles him,  something he said repeated, a lost ornament found, etc.) in real life. Danielle sees these as signs that the universe is telling her to slow down with Pierce. She thinks that Colby might still be alive. She begins to have second thoughts. She goes to the base commander, the father of a good friend, to get a better grip on the situation. He lays out all of the whys and wherefores of why he couldn’t possibly have survived. She is convinced, but the “signs” keep coming. She just can’t shake her doubts off. This negatively impacts her relationship with Pierce and they finally break it off, breaking the wonderful wonderful Pierce’s heart who is played by lovely Steve Lund whom we never hear from again. The night before the dance she sees breaking news that 4 POWs have been found and will soon be coming home. She goes to the base commander for more info, but he tells her he already checked and that the POWs were all “foreigners.” There is no chance. She goes to the dance, and there is her husband bathed in a misty light, fit as a fiddle, looking for her. What the What?! Is it a dream? No. It’s not.  The family is reunited.

Words just fail me (not really). But where do I begin?  Is there any military-related entity or person that this movie didn’t hurt or offend? It makes the base commander and military intelligence look incompetent. Not necessarily for declaring him dead when he wasn’t, although that certainly didn’t earn them any points, but for the misinformation about the POWs being foreigners, killing Danielle’s hopes yet again. And then the recently rescued POW just shows up a day later, all alone, with no warning at a Christmas dance? No hospitalization? Debriefing? No communication to the next of kin? No support or even acknowledgment of him or his widow? No press? Did he even check in with his superiors when he escaped from Yemen? Did he just teleport to the dance?

It insults POWs. This guy shows up out of the blue after being in captivity under brutal conditions, not only unscathed physically or mentally but looking like he has been spending those 3 years at Club Med taking full advantage of the gourmet meals and the fitness facilities. When Danielle asks how he survived, he responds that he just thought about his family and their love. Oh Really? So any ex-POW who died or actually suffered physical and/or mental damage just didn’t love his family enough?

This movie is a slap in the face and potentially harmful to any military wife who has suffered the tragedy of losing a husband but is trying to move forward and build a new life. Stay in the Past! Don’t believe anyone in authority that tells you your husband is dead! If there isn’t a body, there is still hope, no matter what!  Pay no attention to the facts or the insights and good sense of other women who grieved for their husbands but have found peace and happiness with a new partner in life. Any coincidence is a sign from your dead husband trying to tell you he is still alive!  No, I don’t think any woman in a similar situation as Danielle will take this movie seriously, but Hallmark put this scenario out there thoughtlessly with no regard for people who have rightly been told there is no hope even if a body has not been recovered.

It is insulting that Hallmark thought they could just conjure up a happy miracle out of absolutely nothing in the last 5 minutes of the movie and think their viewer’s hearts would be moved. Hey Hallmark, your viewers have brains too. And one more thing. Do not cast the wonderful Steve Lund in a movie where he does not get the girl. I venture to guess that that is not going to fly with 95% of your viewership.  It certainly didn’t with me.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

The Art of Us

Van Gogh to Hell in a Handbasket

The Art of Us had some “odd for Hallmark” elements in it. Some of which were not unwelcome.

First off, yes, Taylor Cole as Dr. Harper Higgins lies about her Dog Walker/Talented Artist love interest being Vincent Van Gogh’s great-grandson in order to advance her career. So that genuinely crossed the line as far as morals and ethics are concerned. It put other people’s careers and reputations on the line. Hallmark heroines usually do have some foibles and faults to grow past, but being unethical and dishonest for monetary gain is usually not one of them. Especially to people she counts as her colleagues and friends. Secondly, she and her artist actually suffer consequences for their bad behavior. She loses her own career and reputation and he has his show canceled and dismantled. The third aspect that was unusual was that the ex-boyfriend is actually a good honest (and very attractive) guy and the only one smart and educated enough to show any skepticism regarding Tom Becker’s pedigree. Taylor broke up with him because, as an art critic, he told the truth about her art (too technical, no heart or passion) in his review. He was saddened when that truth-telling caused her to quit painting instead of learning and trying again. So yes, Taylor is weak character-wise. the fourth thing is that we forego the 15-20 minutes-to-go in the movie conflict that busts the couple up temporarily. There is a crisis but they face it together.

There were also some big questions to get past in order to buy into the main plot. It is not credible at all that a University art department and respected art dealer would buy into Taylor’s lie about Van Gogh. It is well known that Van Gogh had no children. That such a blockbuster revelation would just be accepted at face value with no investigation is simply ridiculous. That a talented artist would be revealed to be Van Gogh’s great-grandson would be headline news worldwide in the arts community.

I had thought I saw this years ago but I hadn’t. When I saw that it starred Steve Lund, I had to check it out because he is a favorite of mine. He is very engaging, you (I, anyway) really buy into whatever emotion he is trying to convey. There is genuine feeling beyond his words. And when the script calls for it, he can be very funny. He elevates whatever he is in. Taylor Cole? Meh. I can take or leave her. Sometimes she’s pretty good, but in this one she is just average. Maybe her character was to blame though. Everything ends on an upbeat note. It is shown that Tom is on the way to becoming a successful artist, and Harper is happily going back to her own painting with a whole new attitude now that her university career is in shambles.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 12, 2022

A Mrs. Miracle Christmas

“Isn’t that Fortuitous!”

The Mrs. Miracle Christmas movies, based on books by mainstream novelist Debbie Macomber, were a cut above typical Hallmark Christmas fare. I was very happy to see a new one in the series with Caroline Rhea taking over the eponymous character. I was not at all surprised that she brought her own comedic talents, warmth, and energy to the role. I am certain that this will be a yearly event now that they have their new Mrs. Miracle. And we got an extra bonus with the appearance of her daughter, “Mercy,” charmingly played by Jordan Ashley Olsen.

In this one, Mrs. Miracle comes to the rescue of a school teacher and her husband, and the young woman’s “Nana” who are all finding it difficult to move forward from grief. Lauren and Will from the loss of their foster child, and Nana from the death of her husband. Lauren also harbors hurt and abandonment issues because of a dead mother and an absent father. Although certain aspects are as predictable as usual, it does avoid some usual Hallmark conventions. For one thing, money is an issue. Lauren and Will started living with Nana because of financial problems. Loss of religious faith is touched on. The big 20-minutes-to-go-in-the-movie conflict over a new foster child is in no danger of escalating because the couple is married and love each other. So they communicate.

Once she settled into the role, Lauren is ably played by Kaitlin Doubleday who is a dead ringer for a young Kelly Ripa.

Steve Lund who is usually in lighter fare, is effective as her husband who is trying to get his wife to look forward and try again.  It was no surprise that he was great in this more dramatic role and they couldn’t have cast anyone better than Paula Shaw as the funny, feisty Nana. All three are caught up in the force of nature that is Mrs. Miracle who is a firm believer that “Sometimes we don’t know what we need until it is placed right in front of us.” It is all capped off with a very satisfying “3 years later” epilogue.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 11, 2021

Secret Millionaire

A Park, A Food Truck, and a Secret Identity

As usual with non-Hallmark TV romances this one strays from the formula just a bit. First of all we have a lack of a festival or small town/big city conflict. This one is the “save the park or whatever” plot. Hey, I didn’t say it was a complete departure!

An indulged son of a real estate mogul has been drifting from one thing to another, while his father wants him to settle down and work with him at his company. He gives him an ultimatum that he has to find a job within a week or he will be cut off from his financial support. Leaving the building he runs into some protesters who are trying to rescue their beloved park from his fathers evil development plans. He conceals his identity and gets a job as a chef in the cute one’s food truck.

Of course, it is only a matter of time before it will be discovered that he is none other than the son of the person who is trying to take the park away. Thus the suspense and tension. The predictable story is enlivened by the cast. Siobhan Williams is a fresh face and is a perfect spunky girl next door type. Steve Lund, a Hallmark regular is as attractive and reliable as usual. And yes, Steve Lund, I saw you in that Allegra commercial. A little side hustle? Good for you. The secondary couple have a sweet courtship, complicated by a rival love interest. Both of the guys are appealing until one of them turns out to be a big phony.

There is corporate-type other woman for our hero to provide some drama, and the Dad learns something about his own grandfather that leads to a happy ending for all. Of course.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

September 14, 2021

Love Upstream

“I’m Too Busy Being Fat and Mannish!”

A funny script, interspersed with good drama and suspense makes this an above-average tv romance. There was great chemistry between the two leads, Kimberly-Sue Murray (perky and effervescent Charlotte) and Steve Lund (dry and cynical Rob). There were several laugh-out-loud comic scenes between the two antagonists turned lovers, as well as tension and eventual tenderness. Each of the actors made the most of the script with their excellent comic timing. And that also goes for Nadine Whiteman Roden who played Tina, the owner of the Wilderness retreat’s wife and eventual friend of Charlotte, our fish-out-of-water heroine. Her opening scene shaming an elderly “Karen” was classic. Charlotte is a devoted city girl who writes books giving relationship advice. When her fiancé dumps her, it puts her career on the verge of shambles. She changes focus and decided to write a book about how to survive in the wilderness. Just go with it.

Her showpiece scene is her panic attack while caught in an elevator with our eventual hero. He is not impressed, to say the least. His big scene is when the couple meets her snobby ex-boyfriend at a fancy restaurant who superciliously asks him what he does for a living. He replies in all seriousness that he is a Prince. So funny. And I loved how he had her back and put him in his place. The actor who played the cheating ex was a dead ringer for Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) which made the take-down all the more satisfying. I also wanted to give props to Tenika Davis who played Charlotte’s affected snotty city friend, who inadvertently shows Charlotte that her heart is not in Chicago after all.

After her adventures, when Charlotte submits her manuscript, her editor changes it to cruelly mock her new friends. They are hurt and betrayed. Tina won’t speak to her, as she yells across the yard, “I’m too busy being “fat” and “mannish!”

Of course, it all gets straightened out, and Rob’s declaration of love was sweet, romantic, and touching. Like I said, the chemistry between these two actors was the best I’ve seen in a long time. Steve Lund is now an official favorite.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 30, 2021

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Bait and Switch

I signed up for a Hallmark movie and got an infomercial for the Ice Hotel in Canada. Except the script would have been better in the infomercial. The lead actress, Jocelyn Hudon, droned her part out in a monotone like she couldn’t get the words out fast enough so she could be done with it. Not that I blame her. Meryl Streep couldn’t have created any interest with this lifeless script. She was pretty, blonde, and boring. Her main personality trait was being cutely clumsy. I’ve liked Steve Lund in other parts, so I’ll just move on.

This travelogue consisted of jumping from one cold-weather activity to another. Baking authentic Nordic food, sliding down ice slides, hot-tubbing, touring the hotel, snowshoeing, glass-blowing, maple syrup making, and northern lights viewing. After about an hour of this frantic activity, the heroine actually asks the hotel owner what there is to do in the area. I kid you not. The most exciting thing that happened was the influential hotel reviewer got a maple syrup pop stuck on his hat. There was a bit at the end where the dead-eyed jealous hotel manager (who actually was pretty scary with her coiled hostility masked by her friendly courtesy) said some mean things to our heroine and briefly scared her off the trail of a new career path and a cute boyfriend. But by that time it was too late. Thanks to that hotel hat guy (who reappeared in one of the strangest caps unless you were impersonating an Army Ranger, ever) disaster was averted.

This is the second Hallmark movie starring the Ice Hotel. I think an investigation is in order. **2 stars out of 10**

May 13, 2021