Month: March 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

Chronicle Mysteries: Vines That Bind (2019)

Chronicle Mysteries is a series about a true crime podcaster, but in its first three episodes, it hasn’t managed to show off the podcasting side of things very much. Main character Alex McPherson whips out a recorder every now and again and sometimes we see her huddled in a dark recording booth, but so far the series hasn’t done anything creative with the profession. I don’t know what they could do to better integrate the podcasting bit because, well, no one’s paying me for ideas. I do know, however, that I’m a fan of star Alison Sweeney and I’m happy to watch more of this series and less of say Aurora Teagarden.

Alex’s latest case takes her to East Coast wine country, specifically to the town of Macklin and the vineyard of one Saunier family. Owner and patriarch Colton Saunier was found dead in a vat some time ago and when his oldest son, Gil, is murdered, Alex knows his death is more than a coincidence. With the help of Barrington Chronicle’s resident gossip columnist Eileen (Rebecca Staab), a regular visitor to the vineyard and friend of the Sauniers, she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It’s a little hard when you’re not welcome though, and the remaining Sauniers do their best to ice her out. Colton’s other son, Jackson, doesn’t want a stranger poking around the family business, probably because he looks super guilty. Not only was he left out of his dad’s will, he’s also bitter that his family accused his new wife of marrying for money. As Alex digs further, however, she uncovers other suspects and generally shady folks. Andy Woods, Colton’s wayward hired hand, is the police’s main target. He’s not to be confused with Ryan, the grumpy horticulturalist who helps Alex but also has a record and sneaks phone calls to a mystery person. Closer to home is the Kelleher farm, which sits next door to the Sauniers’ property and stinks up a storm. Surely some bodies are buried back there. Then there is Jackson’s own family. His wife Mary boasts some mean sharpshooting skills while his daughter Caitlyn, well, she has some ethical lapses.

Like the previous movies, this one casts its net wide early on. A slow news week in Barrington means that Alex’s partner at the Chronicle, Drew (Benjamin Ayres), also ends up in Macklin for a week. He and press manager, Chuck (Dave Collette), go on a research trip for a town profile, tracing its rapid growth into a prosperous wine destination. Small towns are small towns though, and everything intersects eventually. I wish the lines of enquiry would cross sooner, but again, this movie is content to wait until the last minute for everything to fall into place. As a result, the film’s final minutes are a rush to explain things when it doesn’t have to be so.

Luckily the characters compensate, and I’m on board with the whole Chronicle crew. They are reporters who take their job seriously but aren’t too serious. I really love that Drew is not a protective boyfriend because Alex is by herself already plenty capable. In fact, everyone finds themselves in tricky situations, and this case shows how dependent they are on one another. It would be nice to have a Hallmark series that showcases a team of sleuths rather than one or two, and so far this is the closest we’ve got.

Highlight for spoilers: Beady-eyed lawyer Victor Lustig killed both Colton and Gil to redeem his family and town from the upstart Sauniers. Like his aunt, he blamed the Sauniers for Mackin’s deterioration and wanted the family off their land. He played the long game, manipulating Colton by working as his lawyer and then conspiring with the Kellehers, another founding family, to pollute the Sauniers’ land. After killing Colton and Gil, he figured Jackson would give up and sell the land.

Released: 2019
Dir: David Weaver
Writer: Melissa Salmons
Cast: Alison Sweeney, Benjamin Ayres, Dave Collette, Olivia Steele Falconer, Rebecca Staab, Michael Kopsa, Toby Levins, Karen Holness, Michael Patrick Denis, Malcolm Stewart, Garrett Black
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019