Month: December 2019

The Christmas Hotel (2019)

I always like Tatyana Ali even if I don’t always like her Christmas movies, and The Christmas Hotel is unfortunately one of her more lackluster films. She brings a lot of personality to the production as do the other cast members, but they can’t do much to dress up the dopey plot. The story centers around the titular hotel in Garland Grove, a pit stop of a place for folks who are on their way to the skiing. Erin (Ali), a manager at the Wyndsor Hotel in New York is hoping for a promotion to the chain’s Rome location. She gets a shock when she’s instead transferred back home to oversee the completion of the company’s newest hotel in time for its investors. The residents of Garden Grove, including Erin’s parents, don’t welcome her with open arms, however. They may be hurting for business and tourist dollars, but the last thing they want is a hotel chain sprouting up amidst the local shops.

There are a few details about these films that some may overlook but that bother the hell out of me. Wyndsor, a chain of luxury hotels, really has no business being in Garden Grove. Erin says as much when her boss gives her the new assignment, but Bianca Wyndsor (Erika Walter) is adamant about expanding into this untapped market. Fine, I’ll believe that; rich skiers have to sleep somewhere. What I’m not prepared to believe, however, is that some cramped filming location is doubling as an upscale hotel. The opening scenes prime us to expect the Peninsula or a Mandarin Oriental and instead we get a Holiday Inn Express. The filmmakers might as well have hit up the local Motel 6 since that’s the classy aesthetic they seem to be aiming for.

There’s a sense of carelessness here that takes away from the film as a whole. Some fundamentals of production, plot, and character just get ignored, like one turning point in the relationship between Erin and her childhood crush, Connor (Sean Patrick Thomas). As the leader of the protests against Wyndsor, he’s already helped drive out the hotel’s world-renowned chef and he has no qualms about taking Erin out too. Girl’s not going just going to stand there and take it though, so she reimagines the luxury digs, turning it into a year-round Christmas hotel with a lineup of festive activities. Talk about a fickle bunch. The holiday-loving residents of Garden Grove eat it up, and suddenly everyone wants to contribute to this project. Even Connor comes onboard when Erin offers him position of head chef. I admit his quick 180 surprised me. In a matter of seconds, he goes from leading the rebellion to giddily proposing gingerbread baking classes (also suggesting we get our homemade decorations from Etsy-dot-com). It’s enough to make you question the sincerity of his initial protest.

I’d love a better vehicle for Ali and Thomas, who have not aged one damn bit in the last twenty years. Both have a laidback, playing-it-cool vibe that comes through even when their characters aren’t so chill. It’s hard not to like them, and it’s especially hard not to give in to a bubbly Giselle Gant as Connor’s sister, Penny. I feel like they deserve something a little more unconventional, but The Christmas Hotel is as basic as you’re going to get.

Released: 2019
Dir: Marla Sokoloff
Writer: Anna White
Cast: Tatyana Ali, Sean Patrick Thomas, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Giselle Gant, Telma Hopkins, Erika Walter, Nate Bynum, Stephen Jared, Cameron Kelly
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019

Always and Forever Christmas (2019)

Always and Forever Christmas has me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, Lexi Lawson is a sweetheart, Mark Ghanimé is a babe, and I love me some Lifetime diversity. On the other hand, the script, to put it in technical terms, sucks. I tend to favor it because I like the actors enough to disregard the nonsensical writing, but this is a movie you might hate if you have standards.

The film depends on a combination of fanciful thinking and audience goodwill to keep things from falling apart despite its basic plot. Lawson plays Lucy, who returns to her childhood home in Vermont to finalize the sale of her grandfather’s Christmas store to an athleisure wear company. The townspeople are against the idea, but the practical-minded businesswoman will not budge. Funny things happen though when you’re stuck in a small town with not-so-great wifi connection. As she participates in the usual holiday activities, Lucy starts to realize how much the Christmas store means to the town and to herself.

It’s a simple premise but one the movie can’t manage without relying on literal Christmas magic. Carol (Beth Broderick), a low-key Mrs. Claus and the seasonal temp, prompts Lucy to have a change of heart with her constant cheeriness and a few mischievous tricks. I actually don’t mind this character. I’ll buy into spirits and Santas and such because that’s what we do this time of year, but things go sideways when Carol encourages Lucy to look to herself for that Christmas touch. Lucy starts to will perfect gifts into being, helping customers find long lost toys or that special keepsake. There’s no logic behind this; she taps into her magic intuition whenever it’s convenient without explanation as to where she gets this power, whether it’s from Carol or some feature of the store. I see it as a lazy narrative fix and one at odds with the movie’s more grounded message about the magic of simply being at home and in community.

The more jarring inconsistency though is Lucy’s character. She’s all over the place, and there’s a disconnect between how she’s written and how Lawson portrays her. The different parts of her personality just never come together. Lawson has this pure, almost ethereal presence, and she fills her character with a gentleness of spirit that makes her impossible to dislike. At the same, Lucy can be so obtuse and dismissive. She suggests meaningless gifts and brushes off the townspeople’s pleas to at least reconsider her decision. Insomuch as she’s able to finesse her relationships with others, it’s all down to Lawson’s magnetism and not Lucy’s ability to read a social situation. I’m not suggesting Lucy has to either be a hardened businesswoman or a flighty pushover, but let’s at least agree on some personality traits and not bend the character to whatever the scene demands. (Let’s also abandon that tacky red and green wardrobe.)

Scott (Ghanimé), the café owner across the street and Lucy’s romantic interest, fares much better in this story. Then again, he just needs to be the charming and supportive guy next door, which is exactly what Ghanimé delivers. The actor doesn’t have too much to work with since the dialogue is filled with clunky clichés, but you can imagine him taking up the lead again, hopefully soon. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing this whole cast take another shot at this Christmas thing. Lifetime is really out here giving us multiple POC leads, biracial couples, and Asian folks in a romantic subplot. This movie might be a bit of a mess, but I like what I like.

Alt Title: Forever Christmas
Released: 2019
Dir: Siobhan Devine
Writer: Blaine Chiappetta, Damon Tod Hill
Cast: Lexi Lawson, Mark Ghanimé, Beth Broderick, Cardi Wong, Adam Hurtig, Stephanie Sy
Time: 87 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019

Christmas On My Mind (2019)

Andrew Walker is in fine form for his second of two Hallmark Christmas films this year. The first one was less than spectacular so let’s agree to never mention it again, but Christmas On My Mind improves on that last effort and the actor looks as handsome as ever. The film gets off to a promising start with Ashley Greene as Lucy, a bride-to-be who slips and hits her head right before Christmas. When she comes to, she realizes that she’s lost her memory, a rather inconvenient development since she’s clutching her wedding dress and has no clue who the groom might be. She thinks she’s about to marry Zach, played by Walker, but when she goes to find him in Bedford Harbor, she learns that they broke up two years ago.

I love a good mystery, and a cracking Christmas mystery is even better. This film doesn’t quite live up to expectations though despite some solid performances. Lucy’s predicament suggests a puzzle, one in which she has to piece together her past to figure out what she’s doing in the present. There’s precious little detective work to be done, however. Rather than focusing on the reason behind Lucy and Zach’s breakup, the movie often reverts to a conventional romance, a story about reuniting two ex-lovers. It occasionally drops a clue or dangles a mystery, but these are embellishments and nothing more.

The suspense generated by the opening scenes dissipates once the logic of this story breaks down. Lucy is diagnosed with retrograde amnesia and finds herself unable to recall anything from the past two years. She can’t remember what she does for a living or the fact that she’s about to marry Brad (Clayton James). She can, however, remember her life as an arts teacher and that she was engaged to Zach before she moved to Portland, Maine. I don’t know what the medically appropriate thing to do is in this situation, but I’m guessing spending time in Portland might be more useful to her than hanging out in Bedford Harbor with people she already knows. After all, she made a conscious decision to move to Portland and to marry Brad, and you’d think she’d want to trigger memories from these last two years. Lucy explains that she can’t move on without figuring out how she ended up working at a fancy arts foundation or why she’s eschewing Christmas crafts and home cooking, which makes sense, but these are answers she can probably coax out of sympathetic friends. They aren’t, by the way, answers that the viewers ever learn.

As bothered as I am by the story, I still enjoyed this ensemble. Walker and Greene are a natural fit. Walker brings out all of Zach’s emotions, giving us his character’s shocked, awkward, and sensitive sides in equal measure. Greene has a more difficult job since her character is so frustrating, but she works her chemistry with Walker, and you can see why Zach still falls for Lucy. My favorite couple though is Lucy’s friend, Anna (Donna Benedicto), and Zach’s brother, Beau (Preston Vanderslice), who bring something pure to a story filled with secrets and messy relationships. Anna is by far the most charming person in this movie, and Benedicto shines as loyal BFF. Unfortunately, she’s not going to lead a Hallmark movie any time soon, but Lifetime, give my girl a call and pair her with Mark Ghanimé or another POC hottie. This is not to take away from Vanderslice, who also makes the most of his role. He’s both cute with his girl and funny around his brother, which is just the balance this film needs.

Released: 2019
Dir: Maclain Nelson
Writer: Kirsten Hansen
Cast: Ashley Greene, Andrew Walker, Jackee Harry, Donna Benedicto, Preston Vanderslice, Clayton James, Debs Howard
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019