Month: October 2016

Harvest Moon (2015)

harvest-moon

There are two takeaways from this film. One is that “inside every city girl is a country girl aching to get out.” I don’t know that it works the other way around, at least not according to my knowledge of life based on Hallmark movies. The second, and perhaps more important, is that Buddy Lembeck is no longer the goofy best friend but a mature, and bankrupt, dad to a beautiful young woman. Check it out, Charles in Charge fans.

If you care for neither of these though, you hardly need to add Harvest Moon to your queue. It follows the plot of most Hallmark movies, which is to say it is predictable and unchallenging. You have your basic hot widowed father and blond city slicker. She crashes into the small town with her big city ways and finds herself at odds with the guy until both realize that opposites attract and they are kind of made for each other.

Harvest Moon spices up the story with the sale of a pumpkin patch owned by rich girl Jen (Jessy Schram) and managed by farmer Brett (Jesse Hutch). When she learns that her family’s broke thanks to her dad’s (Willie Aames) failed investments, she decides to check out her remaining asset. But first she has to figure out how those country folk live, like what constitutes appropriate footwear and when and where one should take selfies. The girl doesn’t even recognize the sound of a rooster though, so she’s got a lot to learn.

Jen figures she can sell the place for a higher price if she gives the pumpkin patch and farm a makeover. Brett, hoping for the chance to buy it himself and fearing what might happen to his family if they are forced to leave, tries to sabotage her project or at least make country life so unbearable that she gives up. It’s not a bad plan since Jen’s idea of an intense workout is limited to her yoga class. Brett, however, doesn’t count on falling for her over potted plants and stolen glances of her line dancing.

The city mouse country mouse dichotomy is unnecessarily strong, but stereotypes are what make Hallmark movies go round. Jen’s shallow, non-white best friend (Patricia Isaac) looks down at her friend’s fallen condition and wants to whisk her back to the city where you know you can’t trust anyone but where you can get a delicious fat-free latte. Jen’s not all designer heels and luggage though. She may be clueless but she’s not a bitch and earns the admiration of Brett’s daughter and the homely farm gals, especially when she gives the latter makeovers and treats them to facials and massages. The movie improves when Jen is shown to be more resourceful than her urban elite upbringing would suggest. If the country is characterized by hard work and community, Jen proves that she fits right in, and in fact, her transformation is the more appealing part of the story. The romance, tinged with dead wife melodrama, is just routine, never fiery.

Released: 2015
Dir: Peter DeLuise
Writer: J.P. Martin, Ron Oliver
Cast: Jessy Schram, Jesse Hutch, Willie Aames, Lynda Boyd, Rowen Kahn, Patricia Isaac, Lilah Fitzgerald
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2016

Autumn Dreams (2015)

autumn-dreams

Autumn Dreams has little to do with autumn or dreams but the fall colors sure make a cozy palette. Just splash some oranges and yellows across the screen, and they’ll warm up any old romance. That’s how Hallmark gets away with this treacle. Well, that’s how they get away with every romance, but comforting, bland sentiment is sort of the point. I have yet to do a deep dive into the network’s non-Christmas catalog, so I don’t know how this compares with similar fall fare, but it earns points for picturesque shots of corn, country sunrises, and a John Deere. (And my true Southern Illinoisan colors come out.)

The main character is a down-to-earth farm girl from Iowa, who also happens to have a masters in agricultural chemistry and is working on her Ph.D. That’s a woman I can cheer for. The movie starts a little further back though when teenage Annie and Ben, a farmhand, elope one night. Problem is, they didn’t go far enough, and Annie’s dad catches up with them just after they’ve said their vows. He forces them to sign an annulment, and the two part ways – Annie back to her dad’s farm and Ben off to a new life in New York City.

Fast forward fifteen years and both are engaged. Annie (Jill Wagner) finally decides to get hitched with Joe (Michael Karl Richards), who has been pining for her since before her first marriage. Her reluctance to wear her wedding ring while doing farm work is a sure sign that things aren’t going to work out though. Meanwhile, Ben (Colin Egglesfield), who is really nothing but a “country boy in a designer suit,” is one half of the social event of the season. His fiancée Jovanna (Tasya Teles) is an accomplished interior designer, prefers a minimal aesthetic, and probably shoots lasers out of her eyes. Besides incompatible personalities, the only thing standing between these lovers and wedded bliss is the fact that Annie and Ben are still technically married.

You can see exactly where this story’s going. Annie and Ben meet again when they have to appear in court to finalize their divorce and discover that despite some miscommunication that could have easily been solved with Facebook, they still kind of have a thing for each other. Even though Ben’s now some flashy businessman who has a corner office and a chauffeur named Hector (Bill Dow), he still has a little Iowa in him. He’s also, Hector points out, not an asshole investor. But because Ben’s not ruthless, he’s not exactly happy in his professional or personal life.

Thus is the moral of this and every other Hallmark movie. There’s nothing like a set of good ol’ rural values to guide the way. Annie arrives in the Big Apple like she’s just stepped onto Ellis Island, but unlike those wide-eyed innocents, the big city just isn’t where she belongs. After all, she treats Hector like an equal by sitting with him in the front seat, shuns the corporate suite that Ben’s arranged for her, and escapes in time to save her crop from a bad storm. I’m still holding doors for people in a city of 7 million, so I’ll give into simplicity and sentiment and give a polite nod to a movie that appreciates a more casual pace of life.

Released: 2015
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: Laurie Stevens
Cast: Jill Wagner, Colin Egglesfield, Tasya Teles, Michael Karl Richards, Matty Finochio, Bill Dow, Rachel Hayward, Catherine Lough Haggquist
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2016

October Kiss (2015)

october kiss

I end up indulging in Hallmark movies at this time of year because my mom has a veritable buffet of them on her DVR. It seems they can spin a love story out of any holiday, so I expect the Flag Day film bonanza is just around the corner. Until then, it’s Halloween romances, which haven’t yet achieved that cozy, magical touch. October Kiss reflects some of that blandness. Besides a nod to, or rip-off of, depending on how you look at it, my favorite movie ever, there is little to distinguish this from all the others that clog up Hallmark’s timetable.

October Kiss, if you insist on watching, is The Sound of Music set in America during Halloween with only two kids, no singing, and, thankfully, no Nazis. But stripped of a few details, this Hallmark movie sticks to the script. An exuberant young woman can’t figure out what she wants to do in life and is sent by her sister to care for a distant widower’s two young children. All they want is to be loved by their father and, later, their nanny. Certainly they don’t want daddy’s attractive colleague to win his heart, and when it looks like she might, well, you can figure out the rest.

Instead of playing guitar and making play clothes out of old curtains, Poppy (Ashley Williams) bakes cookies Martha Stewart would envy and designs one-of-a-kind Halloween costumes. This earns the good will of her young charges, Zoe (Hannah Cheramy) and Zach (Kiefer O’Reilly), and helps her overcome her commitment issues. She finally decides to stay on a job for more than a week, which is good news for Ryan (Sam Jaeger, Bill Pullman and Aaron Eckhart’s love child), an app designer who’s about to sell his latest project to a major company. Besides being overworked, it’s his deceased wife’s favorite holiday, and he’s not physically or emotionally up to taking care of his family and his job.

There are a few sweet moments, like when the kids play adult and give their father an evaluation. Jaeger is also a hopelessly kind as Ryan, and it’s easy to forgive him for his upended priorities. Even when he misses his kids’ party or totally overlooks their decorating effort, you kind of feel bad for him too. But like many Hallmark movies, October Kiss stays within the lines and doesn’t offer anything you haven’t seen already (because, really, we’ve all seen The Sound of Music). Everything’s got a distinct Better Homes and Gardens glow and is painted brilliant Optic White, save some Japanese extras. Poppy also never really resolves her initial problem, which was a lack of purpose. She only takes the nanny job because she doesn’t know what she’s passionate about doing in life, not because she has an existential conflict about her relationship status. In the end, we’ve figured out her purpose is her relationship.

Released: 2015
Dir: Lynne Stopkewich
Writer: Mackenzie Austin
Cast: Ashley Williams, Sam Jaeger, Hannah Cheramy, Kiefer O’Reilly, Crystal Balint, Miranda Frigon
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2015