Month: February 2019

Last Chance for Christmas (2015)

There’s a lot to like about Last Chance for Christmas, but you also have to factor in an ethically challenged Mrs. Claus. She’s not the worst person in this film, but her predilections change the tenor of things. Instead of the generous, warm-spirited grandma we’re used to seeing, this Mrs. St. Nick (Jayne Eastwood) is a cranky utilitarian, totally comfortable with outright theft and the destruction of a family’s livelihood if that means keeping Christmas on schedule. When stablehand John (Gabriel Hogan) discovers a fracture in Prancer’s hoof, she orders him to find another reindeer straight away. Never mind the Clauses’ mismanagement has left them without a backup plan. With only four days until Christmas, John flies down to Buckley Falls, Alaska to secure a reindeer from the Miller ranch.

He’s surprised to find Annie Miller (Hilarie Burton) instead of her father and, as he’s a man who spends most of his time with animals and not people, ends up coming off as a bit of a loose screw. Annie thinks he’s someone from the bank, which is foreclosing on her reindeer farm, or a hack from Reginald Buckley’s (Tim Matheson) company, which hopes to incorporate her land into a winter activity park. Neither tries to clarify their misunderstandings, but when has that stopped anyone from falling in love?

I haven’t seen that much of Hogan and Burton, but I like both of them enough to immediately warm to their characters. John is wonderfully awkward, except around Frankie, the reindeer he wants to borrow, and Annie’s daughter, Madison (Lola Flanery). He wins the shy girl over by being his bumbling self. She sees through Buckley’s sugarcoated promises to protect their reindeer and knows that John’s the real deal, a true reindeer whisperer. Meanwhile, Annie is naturally guarded, suspicious about this guy from head to toe and with good reason. She’s days away from getting kicked out of her home, her father’s life’s work destroyed. Who wouldn’t be exhausted and cranky?

There’s a slight traffic jam as the story pushes through the second act, though not anything that slows things too much. John, Annie, and Madison have to figure out a way to save the farm and Christmas all while figuring out how they like coming together as a family. In addition, John struggles with an ethical dilemma, whether he should steal a reindeer and possibly ruin the Millers or not steal the reindeer and ruin Christmas for everyone in the world. It’s a problem above his pay grade, but John is a principled guy and just what we need to counter flinty Mrs. Claus.

Released: 2015
Dir: Gary Yates
Writer: Mike Bell, Gary Yates
Cast: Hilarie Burton, Gabriel Hogan, Tim Matheson, Lola Flanery, Jayne Eastwood, Derek McGrath
Time: 87 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019

Mistletoe Over Manhattan (2011)

Hallmark Christmas movies don’t tend to be memorable because they’re good. If they are memorable at all, it’s because of something along the lines of “I remember this movie because Mira Sorvino had creepy old age makeup and played Mrs. Claus, who took a trip to Vegas and then ran into cutie bartender Andrew Walker.” See, very memorable, which is more than I can say about Mistletoe Over Manhattan, a film that’s also about a dippy Mrs. Claus who finds herself saving Christmas and having to go to America to do so. This one doesn’t have as wacky a premise and therefore will be wiped from my brain the second I finish writing this review, but that’s not to say it’s horrible movie. In fact, it’s perfectly enjoyable Hallmark fare; you just don’t need to go out of your way to find it.

In this iteration of the Mrs. Claus chronicles, partner Nick (Mairtin O’Carrigan) has lost a step or two. Unable to keep up with 21st century demands, he’s not in a great position to bring Christmas joy to children around the world. The ever attentive Becca Claus (Tedde Moore) fears that Christmas could be cancelled this year, and since the elves aren’t helping much, she intervenes. Her idea is to go back to New York City, where she and her husband once shared a romantic holiday together, and find something that will remind him of the spirit of the season.

I don’t know why the Clauses are always coming to America to solve their Christmas woes. I’d opt for Finland or Canada if I had the choice, but I don’t because this is fake and so America it is. Becca finds that the New York she remembers has changed though. She barely has money to cover a hotel and meals and the department store doormen are rude. She meets a friendly police officer just in time, thereby preventing this movie from becoming a different one entirely.

Joe (Greg Bryk) is going through a divorce from Lucy (Tricia Helfer), and life is miserable for everyone. The former couple are sharing custody of their two kids, dream child Travis (Peter Ducunha) and sullen teen Bailey (Olivia Scriven), but Joe occasionally ducks out on his commitment in order to cover extra shifts for his friends. Meanwhile Lucy has moved on with her boss, Parker (Damon Runyan). The relationship can’t be that great since he wants to move down to Florida and ship the kids off to boarding school, but she doesn’t know this.

Enter Becca, whom Joe quickly hires as their new nanny. If this were a Lifetime movie, she would turn out to be serial killer granny, and indeed, she suggests he exercise a little more caution when hiring the help. This is Hallmark though, so Becca is wonderful, working her magic on the family by showing them the love and stability they’ve been missing. About her only fault is her blind dislike for tofu, which would get her nixed from my home.

The film complements a snowy afternoon in December. It’s calming and low pressure and sometimes funny. Dedicated elf Sparky (Ken Hall) generates a lot of the humor along with a bumbling Santa. I also like the coupling of Bryk and Helfer, relatively new faces amongst the usual stock players. Bryk is a different kind of lead than we’re used to. He’s quieter, not as likely to chuck Christmas trees here and there. Guess that’s what you get when you set stories in the city instead of on someone’s farm.

Released: 2011
Dir: John Bradshaw
Writer: Hilary Hinkle, Linda Engelsiepen, Rickie Castaneda
Cast: Tricia Helfer, Greg Bryk, Tedde Moore, Ken Hall, Mairtin O’Carrigan, Olivia Scriven, Peter Dacunha, Damon Runyan
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Yours, Mine & Ours (2005)

Yours, Mine, and Ours is not great. In fact, after watching a handful of clips from the original 1968 film starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, it’s clear that that movie is superior to this slapdash effort featuring Rene Russo and Randy Quaid. The story is about a blended family with a boatload of kids as well as a few dogs and cats and a pig. No one gets along, and someone is always screaming or throwing something or generally making a mess. Still, I chose to keep watching while eating Saturday leftovers when given the chance to change the channel, so I guess this means I liked it?

If there’s one thing that kept me watching, it was Russo and Quaid. They lack chemistry surprisingly but make an attractive double act nonetheless. Both are magnetic and can turn me on with a smile, which is helpful since the script doesn’t leave much in the way of character development or romance. Helen North (Russo) is the kind of hippie mom who encourages creativity and group hugs amongst her ten children, some of whom are adopted. Her new husband and high school boyfriend, Frank Beardsley (Quaid), is the opposite, a pre-Maria Captain Von Trapp if you will. The Coast Guard admiral orders his eight kids to stand at attention and draws up bathroom charts for orderly use of the facilities.

Despite being the actual adults in the room, they have little control over their kids and are mere observers to the chaos their bickering offspring create. They occasionally yell for the madness to stop, but the movie depends on anarchy. Without extended sequences of sibling sabotage and that scene where they turn their gorgeous lighthouse home with the 200-year-old banister into a Jackson Pollack work, the movie has little to go on.

The novelty of an eighteen-child household gets old after awhile, and the writers don’t have a plan for what to do when things slow down. Helen has an interesting job as a designer, but that barely comes into play. We catch just one small glimpse of how it affects her relationship with Frank before it’s tucked away. Frank gets the better end of the deal, and his reluctance to take on a promotion with the Coast Guard makes a bigger impact. It’s done in such a hurried way though that it feels like they’ve only skimmed the surface.

The momentum in this narrative lies with the kids, whether they’re fighting each other or, after changing tactics, they decide to fight together. Determined to break up the family one way or another, they agree that their quickest route is through divorce. By joining forces though, they’re guaranteed to form a real alliance, and the promise of a happy ending is another reason why I enjoyed this movie. Look, I like it when kids who don’t like each other end up liking each other. It’s predictable but it makes me smile, and dammit, that’s what I want in my lazy weekend entertainment.

Released: 2005
Prod: Robert Simonds, Michael G. Nathanson
Dir: Raja Gosnell
Writer: Bob Hilgenberg, Rob Muir, Ron Burch, David Kidd
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Rene Russo, Sean Faris, Rip Torn, Linda Hunt, Danielle Panabaker, Drake Bell, Lil’ JJ, Miranda Cosgrove, Katija Pevec
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019