Month: July 2019

Christmas Camp (2019)

Hallmark and its contributors have dreamt up some ludicrous ideas over the years, but Christmas Camp is really out here trying to win the prize for dumbest premise. As the uninspired title suggests, the story is about a “Christmas camp,” a weeklong retreat where campers try to regain their Christmas mojo, according to one character. That’s the general goal at least, but in fact, people attend for all sorts of reasons, most of which probably aren’t best solved by spending loads of money on a one-week vacation/workshop just before the holidays.

Haley (Lily Anne Harrison) is the type of camper who could care less about Christmas. She tends to celebrate with a Caribbean getaway and a nice salmon dinner. That’s exactly the attitude her boss doesn’t want her to have, especially if Haley is going to lead the advertising pitch for a major toy company and land a promotion. Her boss suggests, demands, a stint at Christmas camp. The purpose is to help Haley generate some ideas for the toy campaign, but it also might be a ploy to get her to help out with Christmas decorations next year. Nevertheless, she goes, determined to be in and out before week’s end. Christmas camp ain’t that type of place though, and workaholic Haley discovers that the only way to get through is to slow down. It’s a hard ask but one made easier by the presence of the owner’s cutie son, Jeff (Bobby Campo).

An architect and fellow Bostonian, Jeff is helping his dad, Ben (John James), for a week. He also wants to convince Ben to trade the family home and business for a condo in the city. Christmas camp was his mom’s dream, however, and his dad is determined to carry on for as long as he can, which isn’t much longer by the look of things. The camp is losing money, something that shouldn’t be a surprise because the whole enterprise is ridiculous.

The place caters to everyone thus no one. It’s not as if all the guests share Haley’s predicament and simply hope to rediscover their love for gift giving and snow angels. Nor is it a place where Christmas-holics can come together and try every craft on their Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of people and purposes, a place for therapy or recovery or instruction depending. A newly married couple, for example, are spending their first holiday together and need some very practical advice on how they can bring their two families together and still honor different traditions. Another woman feels lonely while her son is stationed abroad and just wants to revisit the place where they used to spend the holidays. Yet another guest is a divorced father, hoping to make Christmas special for his two young children. Somehow, Christmas camp satisfies all these different needs with traditional activities you can do at home without paying a thousand dollars. Maybe I’m alone here, but I’m going to feel cheated if I spend money so that someone can drive me to a volunteer gig at the shelter or tell me to write my Christmas wish on a piece of red and green paper.

It’s hard for me to see how this movie could have succeeded. Even Bobby Campo, who I could always use more of, doesn’t help the situation. There’s not much for his character to do except flirt with Haley the entire time and ignore every other guest. Harrison keeps things perky, which is nice, but her charm isn’t so great as to overcome the film’s concept.

Alt Title: Christmas Bootcamp
Released: 2019
Dir: Jeff Fisher
Writer: Karen Schaler
Cast: Lily Anne Harrison, Bobby Campo, John James, Geraldine Leer, Shadner Ifrene, Milan Williams
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Poinsettias for Christmas (2018)

I learned some important things about poinsettia care from watching a Lifetime movie, and I think about it every damn time I see my precious plant. So I guess I can’t be too hard on Poinsettias for Christmas since it’s both educational and entertaining. It also stars Bethany Joy Lenz, who has a pretty good track record when it comes to holiday movies.

Lenz plays Ellie, an urban planner who returns home when she gets an urgent call from her father (John Schneider) about their poinsettia farm. After years in the business, there’s no problem he can’t handle, at least that’s what Ellie thinks until she discovers a greenhouse full of poinsettias that haven’t changed color. That’s not a big deal in my house because I quite like the look of green poinsettias, but this is the actual nightmare scenario of Ellie’s family. Not only do they supply local schools and businesses with the colorful plants, they also provide poinsettias for the town’s Christmas parade. Failure to fill this year’s orders will destroy their reputation and business, which has been decades in the making.

When you have thousands of plants, it’s more than a matter of googling “how to change the color of poinsettia leaves,” and Ellie needs a major fix. She digs in to her vast horticultural knowledge and seeks additional help from the farm’s botanist, Sean (Marcus Rosner). She gets some useful suggestions, but she also gets a fierce rival in the form of Patty (Lauren London), her former classmate and resident mean girl. Not only is Patty dating Sean, she also wants to expand her lifestyle blogger/influencer/guru profile by purchasing the poinsettia farm. It’s shaping up to be a miserable Christmas for Ellie’s whole family.

One of the film’s surprises, besides learning plant care, was Rosner’s role as the good guy. He’s played the asshole boyfriend for so long that my brain can’t catch up with what I’m seeing. I know he’s supposed to be a legitimate love interest, but I keep waiting for him to pull a signature jerk move, like taking credit for something Ellie did or prioritizing his needs over hers. Lenz, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d expect for her character. She shifts effortlessly between a fancy city gal and a dirt-under-the-fingers country girl. She brings a certain humility to this role that I find appealing as well. Her performance lends more dimension to the usual “save the farm” plot and is a reason why this movie falls in the better half of the genre.

Released: 2018
Dir: Christie Will Wolf
Writer: Barbara Kymlicka
Cast: Bethany Joy Lenz, Marcus Rosner, Sharon Lawrence, Lauren London, John Schneider, Rhonda Dent
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019

Finding Christmas (2013)

Before there was AirBnB, there were internet home shares, and before there was Finding Christmas, there was The Holiday. While I’d opt for a questionable AirBnB over sketchier home share, I can’t see a reason to watch Finding Christmas when The Holiday (and emotional Jude Law) exists. This 2013 Hallmark movie borrows heavily from the 2006 feature film and sees two people swapping homes during the holidays, but in this story, it’s the guys who are escaping their messy love lives.

Sean (Mark Lutz) and Owen (J.T. Hodges) are both coming out of long term relationships. Sean, a busy Manhattan ad man, is about to propose to his girlfriend when she surprises him with news of her own, that she’s dumping him because he spends more time on his business’s future than on their present. Meanwhile, over in North Carolina, repairman Owen finds out that his ex-girlfriend of seven years has gotten engaged to a man she’s only dated for a few months. The two men do what any reasonable guy who’s had his heart broken just before the holidays would do, and they go online looking for someone with whom they can trade places. Sean and Owen have just what the other is looking for, and in no time at all, city mouse and country mouse are off to explore new environs.

Owen has no difficulty adjusting to life in Sean’s posh downtown loft, especially with Sean’s assistant, Mia (Cristina Rosato), making sure he’s well cared for. His biggest problem is getting his smexy neighbor, Halo (Jessica Phillips), to acknowledge him in the elevator. Sean, however, finds that country life is not quite what he expected. Rather than relaxing in a cozy retreat, he’s freezing his ass off in Owen’s unheated cabin and is mocked for his effete breakfast preferences. He’s ready to bail when Owen’s sister, Ryan (Tricia Helfer), steps in. She softens the blows, fixing the broken heater and showing him the finer points of country living.

This movie could be enjoyable if you’re not always comparing it to The Holiday. That movie has its own problems, but it also has Kate Winslet and Rufus Sewell in addition to Jude “Hot Dumbledore/Hot Pope” Law and an oddly charming Jack Black, not to mention a cute Surrey cottage. This one’s got Owen’s open mike rendition of “Joy to the World” and…a hay ride.

It’s not a fair comparison, but then again, if you’re going to rip off a popular Christmas movie, you have to make it special. Both Sean and Owen turn out to be rather boneheaded, and neither get much deeper than two dudes who just want a change of pace. Their prospective partners, on the other hand, show off a lot more personality with their limited time. Helfer’s performance as a veterinarian and single mother is the emotional core of the movie. Rosato, meanwhile, shores up the New York end of the story, and Mia’s relationship with her absent boyfriend probably deserves more attention than Owen’s misguided attempt to woo Halo.

Released: 2013
Dir: Harvey Crossland
Writer: Lee Ventura
Cast: Tricia Helfer, J.T. Hodges, Mark Lutz, Cristina Rosato, Christian Distefano, Brittany Gray, Jessica Phillips
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019