Month: December 2014

The Christmas Parade

the christmas parade

I’ve fallen about as low as Hallmark will take me in terms of my television choices. Thankfully, the Christmas season is drawing to a close, and I know this because the network has already started flogging its Valentine’s Day marathon. But for those who want to stretch the holidays to their natural conclusion, fluff like The Christmas Parade will do nicely.

With its Build-a-Bear-like assembly line of holiday movies, Hallmark manages to churn out the same cuddly product by the dozens, each dressed up to make it look one-of-a-kind. It all starts with a single woman who has some emotional detachment. In this case, it’s Hailee Anderson (AnnaLynne McCord), a New York City entertainment reporter who doesn’t like Christmas because of bad childhood experiences. To add to her seasonal distress, she finds out on air that her fiancé is shagging a reality star.

That’s when you throw in the handsome, well adjusted, if somewhat ordinary single guy – not the stud you’re never going to get but the attainable everyday bloke. He’s the one who will rescue her from her holiday doldrums and help everyone realize that Christmas is really about friends, family, and love, but mostly love. Beck (Jefferson Brown) gets that distinction, and he’s the ideal low-key beau. Not only is he a painter who’s lost his muse, he also works at a children’s arts center in a tiny Connecticut town.

This is especially important because no Christmas television movie is complete without some wacky plot device that will bring the two lovers together. And in this case, it’s – surprise! – the Christmas parade. With the arts center in danger of being bought out, the kids are banking on a $15,000 first place prize for best float, giving them just enough money to stave off property developers. Beck and the kids can’t build Carver Bend’s most amazing parade piece on their own though. So when city girl Hailee literally crashes into town, he asks her to spend her community service hours helping out their righteous cause.

If you like Hallmark’s other offerings, you can happily add this to your list. Brown makes a fine guy next door and McCord is eerily accurate at imitating an infotainment reporter. Still, I thought there was too much pontificating, even for a Christmas television movie. The characters shoot out their ideas in wordy bullet points, which detracts from an already cliched story. The one character that did spice up the formula was Beck’s mother (Chappelle Jaffe), who appears as a writer for the local paper. It’s a role one imagines Betty White would master, if she didn’t have actual movies to make.

Released: 2014
Prod: Robert Vaughn
Dir: Jonathan Wright
Writer: Carley Smale, Robert Vaughn
Cast: AnnaLynne McCord, Jefferson Brown, Jennifer Gibson, Drew Scott
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2014

A Diva’s Christmas Carol

divas christmas carol

Vanessa Williams had a successful run as bitch du jour in TV’s Ugly Betty and earned a few Emmy nods in the process, but she doesn’t quite convince as the eponymous diva in this average Christmas classic remake from VH1. When it comes to the real prima donnas of pop and R&B that her character Ebony Scrooge is trying to lambaste, Williams is too, well, nice.

Still, the movie gets some mileage by finding its niche in the expansive Christmas Carol market. Dickens’s yuletide grinch is transformed into a member of an 80s R&B trio, Desire, but after Ebony goes Beyoncé on her groupmates, she grows increasingly isolated even as her popularity rockets. She mistreats all the people who contribute to her success, including her millions of fans. Also while she’s living it up at the Ritz, her band and backup singers are holed up at a Motel 6 and calling in pizza. Her manager and former boyfriend Bob (Brian McNamara) takes the most abuse, however, and his marriage feels the strain of his puzzling loyalty to Ebony.

A Diva’s Christmas Carol mostly sticks to its source and takes advantage of a few industry cameos. Rozonda Thomas, aka Chilli of TLC, makes a somewhat stiff appearance as Marli, another member of Desire whose death drives the remaining members of Desire further apart. Meanwhile, the Ghost of Christmas Present is a loungy John Taylor of Duran Duran fame. The most interesting cameo, and I hesitate to say also the most effective, however, is VHI’s ubiquitous Behind the Music program. The special stands in as the Ghost of Christmas Future, and it’s this pathetic retrospective that really shocks Ebony into changing her ways. After all, who wants that sort of requiem?

Williams is best when she’s not in beast mode. The movie depends too much on the humor of her acting like a diva – batting away the sunlight, demanding French toast during a video shoot in France – that when she steps away from the cartoonish caricature, Ebony gets a chance to become a person with a chance at redemption. Williams gives her character some nuance and has a few touching scenes with McNamara and Amanda Brugel, who plays her neglected niece. Besides her singing (she offers two new songs), which I will always take, those are the highlights of this adaptation.

“Heart of Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride”by Vanessa Williams:

“Heartquake” by Vanessa Williams featuring Chilli

Released: 2000
Prod: Claudio Castravelli
Dir: Richard Schenkman
Writer: Richard Schenkman
Cast: Vanessa Williams, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Brian McNamara, Kathy Griffin, John Taylor, Stephanie Biddle, Amanda Brugel, Richard Jutras, Linda Goodwin, Michelle Lipper, Amy Sloan, Christian Paul
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: VH1
Reviewed: 2014

Christmas Cupid

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There are some pretty pointless Christmas Carol adaptations, but Christmas Cupid just about wins it. Set in the pop culture milieu of preening starlets and their equally self-conscious publicity agents, this movie is as vapid as the characters that populate it. The story, which has the substance of a box of a cream puffs, lacks the foreboding of Dickens’s novella and instead relies on the audiences’ familiarity with the original to patch up the gaps in writing.

Sloane (Christina Milian), the Scrooge of the piece, is given little urgency to amend her ways. An exacting and ambitious publicity agent, she throws her around “bitchitude” like no other, but nearly everyone else is just as heartless. She essentially sleeps her way to the top with her unfaithful boyfriend (Burgess Jenkins), which means abandoning a lot of friends and her college sweetheart, Patrick (Chad Michael Murray), along the way. When her top client, a superficial young actress named Caitlin (Ashley Benson), chokes to death on a martini olive, she gets a chance to reset her professional and love lives.

Marley has an expanded role in the form of Caitlin, but in this reimagining, death seems like a tolerable gig. Caitlin isn’t weighed down by the chains of her wrongdoings, though she is marked by the same vacuity that characterized her earthly life. That, friends, is the real drag. Caitlin sticks around for awhile and tries to help her publicist see the light, but mostly she’s there to check out the memorial bash the agency is planning for her.

Christmas Cupid is already a lost cause by the time the ghosts belatedly drift into the picture. The characters, and Sloane in particular, have the same artificiality of the publicity machine that squeezes out Caitlins in order to milk the lowest common denominator. When she’s visited by apparitions of her exes (because the ghosts of Ex-Mas is clever), her conversion rolls merrily along without any real gravity. It’s a meaningless redemption with only one satisfying moment, unearned of course, that Sloane shares with Patrick. I give this movie a big “Bah-humbug” and a kick in the shin.

Released: 2010
Prod: Jody Brockway, Craig McNeil
Dir: Gil Junger
Writer: Aury Wallington
Cast: Christina Milian, Chad Michael Murray, Ashley Benson, Burgess Jenkins, Jackée Harry, Ashley Johnson, Ryan Sypek, Justin Smith
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: ABC Family
Reviewed: 2014