Month: March 2019

A Ring By Spring (2014)

Let’s face it, if some fairground fortune teller told me that I was to receive a ring by spring or never marry, I’d be in hot pursuit of that ring. But since I’d never go to a fortune teller, my hypocritical self thinks this whole idea is ridiculous – and while we’re at it, will Hallmark lay off on the romance every once in awhile and promote stories that don’t depend on the girl getting the guy, or the ring, for its happy ending?

I had hoped they might flip the script here because of a few things that happen late in the game, but I am a foolish child. With a title like this, of course Hallmark is going to deliver the only kind of ending it knows. And so here we are, beset with another story about a young woman who’s found great success in her career but not in love. Rachel Boston plays Caryn, a business consultant whose encounter with one Madame Rue (Stefanie Powers) leaves her scrambling in the run-up to spring. When the fortune teller’s prediction about Caryn’s friend, Stephanie (Ali Liebert), comes true, she suddenly feels pressure to get engaged. So she’s overcome with shock and some anxiety when her longtime boyfriend, Bryce (Chris Jacot), takes her out to a fancy restaurant to dump her instead of propose to her.

His reason, that she is not “marriage material” – that is, she doesn’t want to get married, hits her hard, and she scrambles through a catalogue of past relationships trying to figure out what went wrong. The film gives Caryn room for self-reflection, but she’s strangely rushed and thoughtless as she goes about it. There’s a lot of digging at the surface, and it always comes back to her lack of commitment, something that her exes are now totally cool with and don’t fault her at all for.

Part of the reason why I’m not on board with Caryn’s journey is Boston’s performance. I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that I don’t very much enjoy her acting, at least when it comes to her Hallmark films. While her confidence and bright personality help even the most mundane scripts shine, she doesn’t often vary her emotional range. Her characters are always high even when they are low, as is the case with Caryn. Everything is like a big “ohhhh” and “a-ha!” moment for her. Sometimes that serves her well, like when she has her initial freak out about not getting that ring and wonders if she should comb through Craigslist to find a husband. Those scenes aren’t balanced by more moments where she plays down that energy though.

That’s not to say she doesn’t try, and she shares some great scenes and chemistry with Tom (Kirby Morrow), the owner of some book business or other who has hired her to improve his company’s operations. The two find they both like mozzarella sticks and the same sappy romance movie. Also, she encourages healthier sleep habits in him and he doesn’t mansplain bowling to her. The movie is at its best when it’s just the two of them hanging out. There’s that cloud of awkward energy surrounding them, but when their friendship comes into focus, it’s crystal clear.

Released: 2014
Dir: K.T. Donaldson
Writer: J.B. White
Cast: Rachel Boston, Kirby Morrow, Ali Liebert, Jesse Moss, Chris Jacot, Stefanie Powers
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

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SnowComing (2019)

The small Midwestern town I grew up in has nighttime Christmas parade that is, well, a pretty big deal. Folks from all across the region get themselves and their Ford F-150s kitted out in bright lights every winter, and the city streets, all five of them, are shut down as marching bands and Santa floats trundle through so-called downtown to cheering, ice-coated citizens. It’s been a good twenty years since I froze my ass off marching in this parade, and well, I have never ever thought of going back. Why? Because that’s something only Hallmark characters do.

And that’s why I can’t stop rolling my eyes at Snowcoming, which gets a strike for its plot and another one for its title. Apparently this winter festival and dance is a Big Fucking Deal in some small town outside Seattle. Everyone comes back to celebrate, everyone except Samantha (Lindy Booth) and Jake (Trevor Donovan). Jake is kind of excused since he’s a professional football player, a really good one, and who wants to go to a dance in a school gym when you’ve got NFL money? But Samantha, she just doesn’t feel like it, especially when she’s working at a publishing house trying to corner the Brussels sprouts cookbook market. Both end up back home this year though, which makes things awkward because one, they used to date, and two, they’re both staying with Samantha’s dad, Coach Kerrigan (Dan Marinaro), the local high school’s PE teacher and football coach.

I like Booth because she always has a mature calm that my fake-adult self cannot conjure, and I also don’t mind Donovan, who I say looks like Chris Pine’s younger brother and my mom says looks like Robert Redford’s son, and you really can’t go wrong either way. Together, however, the two have little chemistry. Their characters aren’t antagonistic and neither shows up with a jealous partner, leaving this pair little steam to drive the story forward. Though each character has to make some big decision, they largely work things out without the help of the other. Samantha has to decide whether she’s happy at her current job editing cookbooks when she’s really passionate about children’s literature. Jake, on the other hand, has things a little more sorted. He knows he’s at the end of his career but has yet to decide what to do next.

That leaves a lot of time for mundane scenes of wintery fun. It turns out the two are glad to have come back for Snowcoming. As they dive into festival preparations, they also find new direction with Coach Kerrigan’s impending retirement and a school library upgrade. But those only offer a few moments of high action. The rest of the film is stuffed with cliché fillers – snow angels, snowball fights, campfires in the front yard. I’ll take any of these activities in real life over watching them here, thank you very much.

Released: 2019
Dir: Peter DeLuise
Writer: Betsy Morris
Cast: Lindy Booth, Trevor Donovan, Lynda Boyd, Caitlin Stryker, Andrew Dunbar, Ed Marinaro, Joe Theismann, Jordyn Ashley Olson
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

Love Under the Rainbow (2019)

It’s free preview time at Hallmark, which means the mother and I plan on being homebound for the next month as we soak in all the Hallmark goodness. Love Under the Rainbow is not a great way to kick things off though, and there’s more drama and better acting coming out of the Lori Loughlin scandal than from any scene in this movie. Weak in concept and execution, the film never leaves you wanting more. You’d be better off watching cat videos for an hour since those at least have some sense of direction and purpose.

The movie is satisfied with the bare minimum, doing just enough to make it a recognizable Hallmark production but not enough to make it worth watching. The filmmakers are given a formula, the standard “single dad meets daughter’s single teacher,” but then don’t add anything to give the story life. Lucy (Jodie Sweetin) and Jack (David Haydn-Jones) are about as spirited as a pan of water, total blanks, not in a Robert Rauschenberg kind of way but in a they-could-disappear-from-the-movie-and-no-one-would-care kind of way. Haydn-Jones phones in his part as newly relocated and still grieving architect dad. He doesn’t give Jack any personality worth pursuing, and I for one would much rather invite cutie barista Ben (Brendon Zub) over for spaghetti.

Sweetin doesn’t improve things. Her best acting is from her Full House days, but unlike Haydn-Jones, she at least makes the better mistake of trying too hard. Still, lessons learned from 90s sitcoms don’t die easily, and she turns every emotion an overly optimistic one. Despite having soured on love, Lucy has a Stephanie Tanner-like outlook on life. She may be a little lonely while her parents and sister celebrate their own happy relationships, but at the end of the day, she has the community theater cheeriness of someone who knows everything’s going to be just fine.

You get those types on Hallmark movies but they are usually accompanied by some narrative vision. It’s not clear there’s any end goal here besides getting the couple together. There’s potential for more comedy, especially with Ben as the third wheel, but he figures in just a handful of scenes. Jack’s sweet, wide-eyed daughter, Sophie (Dakota Guppy), also serves as an underused prop. She brings her dad and Lucy together – at school, in the park, at Hobby Lobby – but her obsession with rainbows is treated as a cute quirk until someone finally decides to maybe explore it a bit.

I honestly thought this was going to be some St. Patrick’s Day film, perhaps a story about a woman falling in love with a leprechaun or something. I mean, I’d watch that. This movie’s just sad, a waste of a title and my awesome pitch. Hallmark already has a catalogue of films about two boring people milling around, waiting for love to happen. You don’t have to watch this one, ever.

Released: 2019
Dir: Tony Dean Smith
Writer: Kirsten Hansen
Cast: Jodie Sweetin, David Hadyn-Jones, Dakota Guppy, Donna Christie, Garry Chalk, Rebecca Davis, Brendon Zub, Peter Benson
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

A Country Wedding (2015)

A Country Wedding proves that you don’t always need a great story to make a great movie. Sure, it’s not the best thing out there, but it’s still pretty satisfying and I enjoyed every predictable minute of it. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before since Hallmark recycles plots as a rule. The difference between this and other failed attempts though is execution. Like many films, A Country Wedding boasts a music star, a trip back to Small Town, USA, a romance between childhood friends, and barns. It also has secret ingredient in the stars, namely Autumn Reeser and Jesse Metcalfe. Their pairing lifts this ordinary film into something delightful and even a little magical.

They play Sarah and Bradley, friends who “married” each other at thirteen, as kids sometimes do. After Bradley’s parents died in an accident, he was sent away and hasn’t been back since. Now a Grammy-winning country star, he’s returning to Mill Town to sell the family home. It’s the last thing he’ll do before leaving small town life for good and embracing superstardom in L.A. with his Oscar-winning fiancée, Catherine (Laura Mennell). Of course things don’t go according to plan since he immediately bumps into Sarah, who reminds him to stay true to his country roots even as she juggles with keeping her ranch and horse sanctuary.

I’m not a fan of Hallmark’s, or anyone’s, glorification of small town America because oh, the problems I have seen in these places where I have actually lived. Nor do I think it’s necessary to cast a wary eye on Bradley’s partiality to hipster meditation seminars, code for “this shit ain’t Christian.” The latter is a minor point though and the former is handled with tact. Instead of making it about awful city ways, the filmmakers opt to tell a story about Bradley staying true to who he is, and that’s a country boy. He doesn’t belong in Mill Town because Catherine is evil or L.A. is a corrupting influence but because he and Sarah are in sync, and he happens to get a lot of great songwriting done there.

Bradley eventually extends his stay and decides he’ll get married in Sarah’s barn instead of in Italy, leading the two friends to take on the role of wedding planner. It’s great at first and they have a blast playing with soap bubbles while cleaning the loft, but something’s got to give. Bradley doesn’t seem to know anything about Catherine’s likes and dislikes, and Sarah can’t bear watching him make such a commitment just so he can have a warm body to be with at night. She thinks true love is about having a partner, someone to always share with and support.

That sense of partnership really comes through with Reeser and Metcalfe. The actors have a sparkling chemistry, and Sarah and Bradley are abuzz when they’re together. They are a picture of two people who are just right for one another and have always been. Reeser, one of my favorite Hallmark actors because she is that sweet and lovely, slips into her role with ease. It’s like she’s been on that ranch her whole life, and I don’t mind one damn bit if she plays Texas girls forever. Everything she does boosts her costar, who has the wide-eyed look of a guy still figuring out where he belongs in this world. Metcalfe spends a lot of effort on getting that accent right, which he never does, but the guy sings well enough and somehow pulls off a bolo tie, so I’ll take.

“Cowboy Rides Away” by Jesse Metcalfe:

Released: 2015
Dir: Anne Wheeler
Writer: Nancey Silvers
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Autumn Reeser, Laura Mennell, Aaron Craven, Hrothgar Mathews, Lauren Holly
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

June in January (2014)

Everything I learned about how not to be a bride I learned from Hallmark movies, and June in January is a perfect example of what to avoid. June (Brooke D’Orsay) has been planning her dream wedding since she was seven. SE-VEN. Armed with a scrapbook of clippings and samples, she can’t wait for the big day, but when it finally comes, she finds that getting her dream wedding may not be so easy, especially when her future mother-in-law is rich designer Marilu Henner.

The movie is a delight if you only consider D’Orsay. She is radiant and sweet and makes June, a nurse practitioner, lovely in a hundred different ways. D’Orsay’s character has good taste in friends and boyfriends, and I absolutely approve of her BFF, Tessa (Christie Laing). Then again, I approve of any character played by Laing because I think she’s a cool, down-to-earth chick who has more to offer than the supportive friend role. June’s fiancé, Alex (Wes Brown), is also on the level. Sure, he may look like Ted Cruz’s hot younger brother, but he’ll stand up for his woman and balks at his pushy mother’s mere suggestion of a prenup.

It’s this small detail of June’s perfectionism, however, that I find infuriating, and since this part of her personality dictates much of the movie, it kind of ruins things for me. First of all, who keeps a wedding scrapbook for twenty years? It may have been a project she shared with her late mother, but what kid invests that much energy in a wedding that is decades down the line? How many people have the same design aesthetic at thirty that they had as a teen? I hope that someone at least encouraged her to dream big about college and career and maybe scrapbook those goals.

More aggravating though is June’s insistence that her wedding be perfect, down to the ribbons on her tiny clay flowerpots. It makes me wonder if she’s ever had to make compromises or experienced setbacks in life. Surely she understands that she can’t always get what she wants, like a June wedding. That’s where the real trouble starts, and credit to her for conceding her summer date for January nuptials. At the start of the year, Alex gets a sudden offer to do environmental law at a top firm, a job he has to take because it’s his dream position, but it’s also in Cleveland and starts in February. The couple the have three weeks to pull off their wedding, and in the rush, other well-meaning voices, and some not so well-meaning, take over. Alex’s mom, Diana (Henner), has a lot more than two cents to offer about the venue and the food and the minister, and before long, June’s perfect wedding is becoming more like Diana’s.

I caught myself screaming for June to both relax and stand up for herself. She may not get the roses and ranunculuses she wants, but dammit, peonies are fine. Also, it’s hard to blame Diana for design creep when June doesn’t step up and retake control of her own planning. But let’s not forget Alex’s part in all this. I’ll never truly be on board with any character who makes bad decisions and is not self-aware enough to apologize for them. He has the original sin in all of this. Who accepts a job in another state and doesn’t think, maybe I should check in with my future wife about throwing a wrench in the wedding plans and uprooting our new married life? So that’s two lessons one can learn from Hallmark movies. When fools don’t communicate, you’re going to have problems.

Released: 2014
Dir: Mark Griffiths
Writer: Jeanne Abounader, J.B. White
Cast: Brooke D’Orsay, Wes Brown, Marilu Henner, Christie Laing, Barclay Hope, Gerard Plunkett, Chelsea Hobbs, Anne Marie DeLuise
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019