Month: November 2015

Christmas Under Wraps

christmas under wraps

For a touch of holiday magic, check out Christmas Under Wraps starring Candace Cameron Bure as a big city doctor who ends up in tiny Garland, Alaska. It’s your typical fish out of water story, one that filmmakers have livened up with tinsel and twinkling stars. I’d put this one in the top half of Hallmark’s relentless 2014 Christmas movie campaign though that doesn’t exactly count as a hearty recommendation. But the movie’s pleasant, even if it’s not a stunner, and everyone’s likable making for stress-free viewing.

There’s a little bit of a prima donna in Bure’s character, Lauren, at first, if only to justify the transformative experience she has away from the city lights. She reluctantly leaves San Francisco for a position as Garland’s town doctor while still keeping an eye on a prestigious fellowship in Boston. You know she’s going to have a rough time adjusting because she can’t get her soy latte with nonfat milk and organic sweetener at the local cafe. She also refuses to wear flannel.

But she adjusts, rather accepts, her situation. Part of the reason is because she sees her immediate impact on the residents, who have gone without a doctor for a year. For that, she’s welcomed like the town rock star. The other reason is Andy (David O’Donnell), the cute handyman. He’s the son of Frank Holliday (Brian Doyle-Murray), owner of Holliday shipping and Santa Claus doppelganger.

Even if Lauren is warming up to the people and the town, and Andy, she doesn’t imagine herself staying any longer than necessary. But she soon gets drawn into a mystery that everyone’s trying to keep secret from her. Actually, that makes the story sound more tantalizing than it is. Instead, I should say that there’s something unique about Garland that anyone can guess after five minutes, or by reading Hallmark’s description. This gets played well though with a few cheeky winks that never overtake the story.

Nor does the romance between Lauren and Andy get too much emphasis. In fact, it’s quite restrained for this type of movie both in the telling and the acting, and that ends up making it all the more bearable. There are a few platitudes about following your heart; the couple have minor arguments with their parents about what direction to go in life, but that’s not really the takeaway. What you really need to know is that it’s a bit of fun, there’s a touch of romance, and it goes down well with a plate of cookies and a warm mug of hot chocolate.

Released: 2014
Prod: Barry Barnholtz, Candace Cameron Bure
Dir: Peter Sullivan
Writer: Jennifer Notas
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, David O’Donnell, Robert Pine, Kendra Mylnechuk, Brian Doyle-Murray, Joyce Cohen, James Gaisford, Page Petrucka, Anita Rice
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2015

Hats Off to Christmas!

hats off to christmas

Hats Off to Christmas! plays up the holiday tropes in order to force warm feelings into a neatly packaged gift box. Some of it works but the overall effect is clunky storytelling with characters to match. The movie’s title comes from the name of a year-round Christmas store specializing in holiday hats. They’ve got a topper for every size and style, and apparently it’s good business. But not so good that the family-owned company doesn’t need restructuring. The owner’s reluctance to expand and modernize means they’re increasingly in the red.

That prompts him to bring in Nick (Antonio Cupo), his Yale and Columbia educated son, so that he can put his MBA to good use. Meanwhile, longtime employee Mia (Haylie Duff) thinks she’s in for a promotion but instead finds herself babysitting Nick as he learns the ins and outs of the family business. The two butt heads at once. He’s an arrogant prick who feels he’s too good for the store and the close knit hometown he fled years ago, and she’s a widowed mother with a paralyzed son (able-bodied actor Sean Michael Kyer) desperate for a father figure. It’s easy to see where this relationship is headed.

However, the road to love is paved with pride, misplaced accusations, and lots of side-eye. And a seductive mini-skirted banker named Valerie (Kendra Anderson). She’s in town to reassess the store’s loan but shares Nick’s distaste for small town life, lobbing pot shots at everyone and everything she can. Nick, her old classmate and lover, sympathizes but also begins to thaw to his new coworkers. It’s no wonder given their sob stories, which include death, illness, and financial difficulties.

Cupo is more convincing of the pair as he transitions from jocky GQ model (per Mia) to perfect man and father figure. However, Duff’s performance suffers with the script, which has her character growing hot and cold in the relationship. Mia’s varied acceptance and rejection of Nick are no more than giant signposts signalling the next act in the story, one you can happily drive past if there’s something better to watch.

Released: 2013
Prod: Dan Paulson, Shawn Williamson
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Deanna Talcott, Deborah Majinska, Jennifer Notas
Cast: Haylie Duff, Antonio Cupo, Jay Brazeau, Sean Michael Kyer, Melanie Papalia, Kendra Anderson, Lori Triolo, Michael Adamthwaite
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

most wonderful time of the year

I do think that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately it’s also the time of the year that invites a deluge of sappy TV movies, which is decidedly un-wonderful. This one falls in that wide chasm of tolerable but wholly insignificant movies that you can watch or not watch, depending on how much ironing you have to do. (I only mean that I, like others I know, watch a lot of mindless television whilst engaging in stationary chores.)

You can take it if you like Henry Winkler and want to see how retirement Fonzie might have turned out, or you can leave it if you have a snappier movie on schedule. The Fonz ends up being the main drawing point for me anyway as Uncle Ralph, a loving but no nonsense New York City police officer who’s just left the force and decides to spend the holidays with his niece Jennifer (Brooke Burns) and her son. The tough guy is averse to flying though and gets a little shaky on his flight over, but super-nice Morgan (Warren Christie) is there to help out. When his connection gets cancelled, Ralph asks him to stay at Jennifer’s.

Loyal Hallmark viewers can predict the fireworks that will erupt from that scenario. Jennifer is engaged to a businessman, which is code for jerk in these kinds of movies, and doesn’t have the time or energy to play host to an itinerant thirty year old who thinks he’s past his prime. She’s lost the Christmas spirit plus she’s preoccupied with figuring out how to roast a turkey in order to impress her future in-laws. It’s clear to Ralph and everyone else who Jennifer really needs in her life, and the choice is made easier by the fact that Morgan loves the holidays and is a chef whose specialty is turkeys.

You couldn’t have written it better. Really, there’s only so much you can do with a script like this. The acting is fair; at least it doesn’t detract. But no one, Winkler excepting, stands out, and he only does by sheer force of his stereotypical character. Morgan gets demerits for whining about turning thirty, thus sending eyes everywhere a’rolling. The movie does have its share of laughs though and enough touching moments to tie the package together, so open at your discretion.

Released: 2008
Prod: Harvey Kahn
Dir: Michael Scott
Writer: Bruce Graham
Cast: Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns, Warren Christie, Connor Levins, Woody Jeffreys
Time: 87 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2015