Month: June 2019

The Birthday Wish (2017)

Gwen (Jessy Schram) hates surprises. She has a plan for her professional and personal life and wants to stick to it, which is why she’s more than a little frustrated when her self-absorbed boyfriend, Alex (Marcus Rosner), doesn’t propose to her by her thirtieth birthday. Instead, he gives her a smartphone ring and leaves her at home to attend his own work do. Left to wonder if the life she had imagined for herself will ever come to be, she wishes that she could see ten years into the future. The next morning, she gets a glimpse of that life, and it’s nothing like she expected.

Instead of being happily married to Alex, Gwen has a vision of herself with her coworker, Dave (Luke Macfarlane), and their three kids and minivan. She’s horrified at the thought of partnering with the karaoke-loving creative director of the commercials she directs and even more so when those kids and minivan start to appear in her actual life. But as reality moves closer to fantasy, she begins to rethink her plans and warm to the idea that perhaps some flexibility in life might be a good thing.

I usually have no patience for people like Gwen. I don’t know how you can get to thirty and not experience some disappointment in life or expect that none will be coming your way. In spite her stubborn nature though, she’s easy to like and her faults are part of her charm. Schram allows her character to be vulnerable, and we see Gwen wrestle with the life she’s so carefully planned for herself and one she’s only begun to imagine. You have to admire her for going after what she wants and then, like all of us, struggle to accept it when she doesn’t. Plus, she’s funny, and she and Dave are perfectly adorable together.

The playful story is down to both the actors and the script. There’s a lot of oddball humor, and this is a fun film to watch because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Things tumble from one episode to another; one minute it’s a giant, head-sized cookie and another it’s Alex’s obnoxious weatherman poses. Rosner in particular turns his casting on its head. Instead of playing his usual jerk boyfriend part, he puts a twist on the role and plays a guy who is still a jerk but only because he loves himself more than his girlfriend. Macfarlane isn’t as comical, but Dave is also not as oblivious. I still love Macfarlane though because, well, who doesn’t?

Released: 2017
Dir: Peter DeLuise
Writer: Julie Sherman Wolfe
Cast: Jessy Schram, Luke Macfarlane, Marcus Rosner, Yvonne Chapman, Barbara Pollard, David Lewis, Cardi Wong, Drew Tanner, Manoj Sood
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

Christmas at Grand Valley (2018)

If, like me, you’re watching this movie on Boxing Day and have been on a weeks-long holiday movie sprint, then Christmas at Grand Valley is the last thing you’ll want to see. There’s nothing grand about this film, which relies on every worn-out character and plot point it can find. If, however, you’re starting out your Christmas marathon and are feeling overly generous, you might be able to squeeze a little holiday joy out of this one.

It just takes a lot for me to get excited about the “save the farm/inn/diner/ranch” story these days. In this case, it’s the Grand Valley Lodge, a Wyoming Christmas destination with decades of history and memories but one that is in danger of closing due to falling revenue. Leo, who works for the company that owns the lodge, is sent to assess the property and determine if it’s worth keeping. As a perk, he gets to bring his two young children, Max (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot) and Emma (Hattie Kragten), who haven’t spent much downtime with their overworked dad since their mom died a few years ago.

Needless to say, the people at Grand Valley aren’t happy about hosting Leo in the middle of the holiday season. Mike (Chad Connell) has recently been promoted to manager and scrambles to get everything in top condition. He enlists his artist cousin, Kelly (Danica McKellar), to help out with the kid’s camp where she befriends Max and Emma. She has a frosty relationship with their dad though and doesn’t waste an opportunity to let him know how she feels.

It’s not hard to see exactly where this is heading, and I don’t dislike the movie for its predictability. Rather, it’s the fact that everything is overpolished. The characters and the story are fine-tuned to make us feel a certain way, but the whole thing is oddly void of emotion. Kelly, for example, is weary of the rejection she’s been getting from the Chicago art world. She doesn’t know if she should continue trying to make it in the big city or if she’d rather find inspiration at home where she’s at least surrounded by friends and family. I sympathize, but I have a hard time caring because it seems like she already knows what she wants.

Whenever there is a bit of passion, it ends up being the syrupy kind. The kids are uncommonly cheery. They’re so eager and well-behaved that if this were another kind of movie, you’d think they were evil robots sent to trick you into feeling warm and cozy before they kill you in your sleep. Everyone’s just so amped about snowmen! and ice skating! and carriage rides! If only that sense of fun translated into something more than empty exclamations. The movie could use a lot more humor or quirk. A subplot featuring Mike and a high school crush adds a little interest, but if you can figure out what makes this film special and really worth watching, well, kudos to you.

Released: 2018
Dir: Don McCutcheon
Writer: Mark Amato, Karen Berger, Sue Tenney
Cast: Danica McKellar, Brennan Elliott, Dan Lauria, Hattie Kragten, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Chad Connell, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Angela Asher
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Crossword Mysteries: A Puzzle to Die For (2019)

No profession is too niche for a Hallmark detective, and in this new mystery series, Lacey Chabert does double duty in as a professional crossword writer and an amateur sleuth. The story adds a bit of a twist to your usual murder case because the clues are hidden inside a crossword, a plot device I imagine can only be used so many times. It sets up a good first mystery though, one that involves an art heist and murder.

Alan Nightingale is shot at his New York gallery, and Detective Logan O’Connor (Brennan Elliott) runs into some early roadblocks when he can’t get any security footage. The guy in charge of the cameras (Jonathan Langdon) happens to have been vacationing at the time, but he turns out to be one of many suspects who had disagreements with the deceased. Nightingale was unloved by a number of people, including his ex-wife (Catherine McGregor) and art dealer (Kathy Maloney).

Meanwhile, Tess (Chabert) is preparing for an upcoming crossword tournament when she gets drawn into the case by her aunt (Barbara Niven), a friend of Nightingale, and her New York Sentinel desk partner. Harris (Zach Zmadu) has the crime beat, and Tess learns that an oddly filled crossword puzzle was found amongst the evidence, piquing her curiosity. She thinks she’s hit on a clue after examining copies of old puzzles, but Logan isn’t very receptive to her suggestion that someone is sending out coded messages via the daily crossword. Tess’s persistence and foresight cause him to reconsider though.

A Puzzle to Die For is a strong start to the series. I always find Chabert and Elliott to be an odd couple since I still think of Party of Five era Lacey when I see her, but I’ve gotten used to the pairing, and they get on comfortably with one another. Tess and Logan don’t stand out in any way though, and I hope the writers can find something more interesting about these characters as the series continues.

The case, on the other hand, is full of quirks. It manages to go in many different directions without losing control of the plot. Tess says she can profile a puzzle writer by using his or her clues, so she and Logan try to unmask an elusive “puzzlehead.” They also have to figure out what an antique gun and forged paintings might have to do with the murder and whether someone at the tournament is hiding in plain sight.

Highlight for spoilers: Pierre, Tess’s crossword friend, killed Nightingale, who was actually his brother. A native of Newcastle, he changed his identity and secretly partnered with Alan to steal paintings from their own galleries, collect insurance, and then sell them abroad. The scheme was under threat, however, because Alan was deeply in debt and took unnecessary risks. Pierre, not wanting to be dragged down with his brother, instead killed him.

Released: 2019
Dir: Don McCutcheon
Writer: Gregg Rossen, Brian Sawyer
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Brennan Elliott, John Kapelos, Barbara Niven, Victor A. Young, Genevieve Kang, Zach Smadu, Kelly Penner, Anna Hardwick, Catherine McGregor, Jonathan Langdon, Kathy Maloney
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019