‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Great Googly!

I loved this! When I saw the previews, it was evident that this was definitely off the beaten track for Hallmark. The teaser featured what appeared to be a court case deciding the true authorship of the famous Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas staged as a play. A play within a play? And it was evident that there was a romance going on between two of the actors and maybe some ghosts? I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but it turned out to be a delight from beginning to end.

Torrey DeVitto plays Madison Rush, a successful actress who started off as a child star in a tv series whose catchphrase was “Great Googly!”. She is beloved for that role (people are always yelling “Great Googly!” at her). She is also loved for a romantic movie that she starred in with fellow actor,  Connor Avery. People still talk of their epic kiss in “Christmastime Cupid.”

Madison who is anxious to move forward from acting and into directing is in Troy New York for her first directing job. Her play is based on the mock trial described above. The trial was a real thing. It was held at the county courthouse in Troy in 2013 to determine the long-debated authorship of the 1823 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas: Clement C. Moore or Henry Livingston, a local gentleman farmer. the first trial resulted in a hung jury so it was re-staged the next year and the verdict was that Henry Livingston was the true author of the poem. I didn’t know any of this stuff! Troy’s history with the poem, The Victorian Stroll, the disputed authorship were all news to me, and I loved it! The Hallmark version of the trial, which uses the city’s annual Victorian Stroll (kind of a Victorian Renaissance Festival) as a backdrop for the movie, may or may not have a different verdict.  

In the movie, the play is funded by a rich guy in order to give his girlfriend Lena the starring role to jumpstart her ambition to be an actress. She is a rank amateur and hopeless as an actress. In fact, she can hardly read, let alone act! Also starring, is Madison’s leading man from their movie, Connor Avery, he of the famous kiss.

Madison tackles every challenge thrown at her during preparations for the play and there are plenty. She awakens the talent in Lena by giving her confidence in her abilities, deals with last-minute interferences from the producer, her agent needling her to go back to acting which is where the money is, and many more. The most challenging of the challenges though is the appearance of two mysterious actors who first show up at the Victorian Stroll in costume and then appear during rehearsals to play the two combatants Moore and Livingston. They take over the script but they are wonderful and take the play in a new and exciting direction. Madison bravely just goes with the surprise turn her production has taken. Unfortunately, they come and go as they please during rehearsals, don’t stick to any script at all, and leave poor Madison wondering when, or even if, they will show up for the actual performance.

The romance is drama-free and really nice. Madison and Connor like and respect each other and are half in love already (that kiss!) The relationship develops as Madison gets to know Connor’s young daughter who comes for Christmas. Connor respects and likes Madison for going after her dream of directing and is very impressed with the job she is doing despite the many challenges. Madison learns that Connor actually has a law degree and in turn is also very impressed. There is no doubt (is there ever?) that they are made for each other.

All of the actors in this gave superlative performances. The new-to-Hallmark actor who played Connor had charm and appeal to spare, the actors who played the two (spoiler alert!) ghosts of the two rival poets were wonderful, and the actress who played the terrible actress who comes into her own was also excellently terrible, and then not terrible. Her struggles had me on the edge of my seat. Though I must interject that the preview gave away an important plot point. Dumb. There was plenty of humor, intrigue, and suspense. The romance was not center stage in this one but added a sweet touch and a happy hopeful ending. I was happy to see a veteran Hallmark regular making an uncredited appearance as Connor’s mother. It’s getting to be a tradition, and I have started to expect these little welcome treats. In a rarity for Hallmark, one viewing will not be enough for me. I want to watch it again, knowing what I know now.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Rip in Time

Hall of Fame Worthy-It’s About Time!

I had very high hopes for this one, and I was not disappointed. It debuted on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries which serves as the home of more serious movies that don’t fit the usual Hallmark Romance mold. It was written by C. J. Cox who penned one of the best Hallmarks in recent years, Love Strikes Twice, as well as the Reese Witherspoon favorite Sweet Home Alabama and Rene Zellweger’s New in Town. It starred Niall Matter as Rip Van Winkle’s estranged son who travels from his time to ours and meets single mother Torrey DeVitto, and her son and father, the current owners of the old Van Winkle property.  Time Travel stories are always a safe bet and Niall Matter is a favorite of mine. Torrey DeVitto, not so much, but she was fine in this. Niall seems to have an air of melancholy behind his eyes, which was perfect for this role.

The fish out of water aspect was well done with enough shock and awe at the modern conveniences to make it believable and entertaining, but not so much as to distract from the story and relationship building.

When Torrey, armed with a rifle, and her son first discover Rip cowering in the barn, they flip on the light:

“Are You a Witch?!”

“She was, last Halloween.”

“Please do not shoot me, Witch!”

“Keep Calling me that. Give me a reason.”

“Oh. You are a spinster forced to wear pants to protect your family. I did not mean to offend you.”

“I am not a spinster, and I am offended.”

There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than the family not believing his story, trying to figure out who he is really, hiring him as a temporary farmhand rather than having him locked up, and their adventures in New York City to a hypnotist. It is there that he is taken to a doctor which results in a musket ball being removed from his leg. A musket ball that has not been manufactured since 1830 from an old (Revolutionary) war wound. Explain that one, doubters! Because of that musket ball, their last stop is with a quantum physicist (Ben Wilkinson) who posits that time travel is possible and Rip’s story might be true.

Most of the movie is relationship building with Rip helping Torrey’s bullied son, dealing with the jealous suspicions of his rival for Torrey’s affection, a police deputy, and of course the slow burn romance. Also, a festival. Of course.

The writing was full of authentic details, including bringing in Washington Irving’s classic tale and a lecture on farm machinery of the era. Glad to learn about flax breaks.  Not to mention Ben Wilkinson attempting to explain the science behind time travel to a stunned Torrey and a bewildered Rip.

The romantic conclusion was a little too pat, with many future challenges remaining unaddressed.  But the reach across time, by means of a backpack, provided a reconciliation between Rip and his misunderstood father that was touching and satisfying.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 24, 2022

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 over the refrigerator (Hermione’s Undetectable Extension Charm?). 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! Her oven must have had the charm on it as well. First, It must have taken her hours to cook all those (or did she have the Time Turner as well?) “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!)

Write Before Christmas

Some Top-Notch Actors and Love Actually-type Intertwining Keep this one Enjoyable

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m not a fan of Torrey DeVitto. At least in this one. She was the one sour note in this generally pleasant interest-holding offering. Chad Michael Murray was wonderful: personal charisma and a good actor. The 5 or 6 separate stories kept my attention. I liked them all enough to not skip through to the end. So that’s worth at least a 5 or 6. CM-M, Lolita Davidovitch, and the young man who played Carter were enough to add on two extra stars.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 19, 2019