Author: limmer13

Miss Christmas (2017)

A couple weeks ago, I would have thought a movie like Miss Christmas the stuff of pure Hallmark imagination. A city fixated on finding the perfect tree? A damaged tree right before Christmas? A sudden search for a second tree? An effort so desperate the coordinator will be fired if she doesn’t find another? Turns out this isn’t just a Hallmark plot by mad libs. While the sad tale of Rome’s mangy, toilet brush tree isn’t an exact retelling, one can see the importance of getting the whole tree thing right.

So with that in mind, I gave Miss Christmas a little more credit than it deserves. In an unexpected way, this story is one of the more plausible ones this season, just as likely to happen as romancing a movie star or getting stuck in a cabin with a handsome bachelor. Congrats on that, Hallmark. The good will didn’t last though, and the movie proved far less entertaining than say seeing pictures of toilet brush tree.

Miss Christmas just doesn’t go anywhere. The initial burst of activity is tolerable though in no way captivating. We meet Holly (Brooke D’Orsay), aka Miss Christmas, so named because she’s the face of the Radcliff Center tree lighting ceremony in Chicago. It’s an event so momentous it’s televised far and wide, catching the attention of the McNary family. Little Joey McNary (Luke Roessler) offers to donate his family’s tree, and when the original turns out to be a dud, Holly must take him up on the offer.

Something – someone – gets in the way, and it’s Joey’s dad, Sam (Marc Blucas). The tree, and it’s a magnificent one, has sentimental value, planted by his parents decades ago as a symbol of their love. After his mom died earlier this year, there’s no way Sam’s going to let anyone take this memory away, least of all a city girl with no appreciation for small town life.

If you were playing a Hallmark drinking game, this is the point where you’d start to worry. It only takes a few minutes for the movie to tick off all the clichés – cute kid, dead relative, hot girl from the big city who meets hot guy in a small town. Plus local Christmas festival, Christmas themed names – Holly and Klaus, the name of the town, reference to growing up on a tree farm, and single dad who hates the holidays. I mean, slow down. You’d think Hallmark was in a rush to tell a story or something, which it clearly isn’t.

The rest of the movie is a seventy minute slog. Holly tries to convince Sam that cutting the tree down would actually honor his mother. He thinks that’s a load of baloney and doesn’t like that the rest of his family, including his father and sister, want to go along with the idea. Who’s going to protect Mom?! Blucas, to his credit, puts in more effort than the part merits. Sam is legitimately agitated and then surprises himself by falling in love with Holly. The two actors have some chemistry but nothing that stands out. In her search for the perfect tree, Holly remarks that it must have that X factor, some unquantifiable star quality. If Hallmark is hoping to hold our attention through twenty-one movies, it too has got to give us something more.

Released: 2017
Dir: Mike Rohl
Writer: Joie Botkin
Cast: Brooke D’Orsay, Marc Blucas, Luke Roessler, Fiona Vroom, Greg Rogers, Erin Boyes
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017

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Marry Me at Christmas (2017)

So here’s a revelation. Hallmark movies are far more watchable when one of the lead actors looks like Chris Pine. Turns out the plot matters little when I’m imagining actual Chris Pine in cheesy romances. As far as Marry Me at Christmas goes, the story couldn’t be further from reality. A hot LA actor and a small town wedding boutique owner dive into a serious relationship over the course of two short weeks? Totally fake. But again, who cares because… (lookalike) Chris Pine.

Trevor Donovan has the good fortune (I think we can call it that) of resembling one of my favorite leading men and also happens to be a decent actor. He doesn’t have too much to work with but he makes the most of what he does have. I imagine the basic direction here is to look good in a shawl collar sweater and to act like a nice dude; he does. His character, Johnny Blake, isn’t a pretentious Hollywood type, despite helming some blockbuster franchise. But he could use a break and just live like a normal person for a bit. He gets the chance when his sister, Ginger (Emily Tennant), decides to have a Christmas wedding in the tiny northern California town of Fool’s Gold.

Ginger, who designed the town’s website, enlists the help of Maddie (Rachel Skarsten) to plan the wedding. Maddie and her friend, Isabel (Crystal Lowe), own a bridal store, but it’s fallen on rough times and they’ll have to reassess things after the holidays. This new commission could be what they need to bring in extra money and some publicity. Wary of violating Johnny’s trust though, Maddie refuses to use the actor to boost her business and does her best to keep her association with him, and their growing friendship, under wraps.

This is a case of a mediocre story being elevated by two very likable leads. Besides Donavan, Skarsten is a pleasure to watch. When it comes to cookie cutter Hallmark flicks, I have a thing for humble, down-to-earth types and she makes Maddie very accessible. She’s a bit excited about Christmas, but otherwise, she is just low-key ordinary. She also isn’t prone to rash, senseless decisions and approaches her relationship with Big Movie Star in a reasonable manner. In fact they both do, trying to rationalize their way out of a romance, which only guarantees that they are meant for each other.

Having two characters you want to spend an hour an a half with is important because there’s not much going on here otherwise. Few conflicts are alluded to but none explored with any seriousness. There’s a brief flare-up between Maddie and Isabel over exploiting Johnny’s fame, Johnny casually but innocently throws around his money and privilege, Maddie is emerging from the pain of a failed engagement, and Johnny and Ginger miss their dead parents. Also, Johnny really doesn’t want to film something called Fire’s Edge 3. None of that really mattered though. I ended the movie smiling, and that’s all that counts.

Released: 2017
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Julie Sherman Wolfe
Cast: Rachel Skarsten, Trevor Donovan, Emily Tennant, Crystal Lowe, Blair Penner, Keith MacKechnie, Michele Scarabelli
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017

Christmas Getaway (2017)

One of my favorite books growing up was The Coat Hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estes. It’s about a girl who wants to have a “normal” Christmas like everyone else but never gets the chance thanks to her bohemian mom. The latter flaunts convention and opts for a tree made out of coat hangers instead of say, actual branches and pine needles. It made my fifth grade mind consider how holiday traditions dictate who does and doesn’t belong. I did the calculus, hoping my immigrant family made the cut. We did, because while we didn’t have a real tree, we at least had a big fake one from K-Mart that we loaded with lights and baubles.

Well, Christmas Getaway has me thinking about the idea of tradition again, and yes, I’m way overanalyzing a Hallmark movie. But since this movie is all about the trappings of “an old fashioned Christmas,” I have to at least ask, WTF is an old fashioned Christmas? According to this movie, it’s all about chopping one’s own tree, retreating to a snowy cabin in the mountains, building snowmen, baking cookies, and making gingerbread houses, which only half describes the Christmases my friends and family had. But Hallmark, guardian of Christmas mythology and faux Americana, is here to remind you that you may be doing Christmas, real Christmas, all wrong.

Travel writer Emory’s (Bridget Regan) latest assignment for Journeying magazine is to catalog and reflect on this old fashioned experience. She’s given the job because while she may look like Hallmark’s all-American girl (i.e. pretty and white), she’s never really spent the holidays in the States owing to her father’s business travel. With her family away in Hong Kong (and two minutes away from me), her boss takes advantage of Emory’s alone time and puts her up in the rustic Pine Grove resort town.

She’s all set for old fashioned Christmas when someone else pops into her cabin, beardy hipster lawyer dad, Scott (Travis Van Winkle), and his daughter, Katy (Raven Stewart), and mother (Teryl Rothery). They are here because Katy’s classmate kept going on about awesome Pine Grove Christmas, which made her think that maybe her family tradition of hotel brunch buffet wasn’t all that. Add some memories of dead mom, and here we are. Also add a double room booking and a nasty snow storm, and these four are stuck with one another and all the old fashioned Christmas they can handle.

Really, there’s nothing wrong with the way you spend Christmas, if you celebrate it at all. You can have a satisfying Christmas whether or not you chop down your own damn tree or make smores around a bonfire or ice skate with the guy you’re crushing on. Emory, Scott, and Katy get to tick things off their list and remind us about Tradition. Fine, I’ll buy the romance. I like that Van Winkle is not your typical lead (it’s the beard), and the third wheel school mom adds some tension, but I’m not buying this other stuff.

I’m also not here for Emory’s humble brags. Give the writers a raise already. Clearly someone wanted to show off their research skills because Emory will not shut up about where in the world she’s been. She is that person, that upper middle class white American who lived a year here and spent a summer there and suddenly is the expert on every other country’s culture. Lord, have mercy. If she’s not talking about Sweden’s almond in porridge tradition, she’s talking about the German Christmas pickle. She casually mentions holidays in Italy, Brazil, and Tibet and then claims ignorance when it comes to snowmen and Santa. Woman, someone is impressed that you motorcycled through the Andes. Someone cares that you slept on a catamaran and saw Orion coming over the horizon. That someone is not me.

And while I’m on a roll here, I’m calling out Hallmark for pretending to diversify with important but secondary black characters. You don’t keep getting points for the black bosses and managers and best friends. Give me a black or Latina or Asian or anything else lead, and then we’ll talk. But, hey, watch the movie!

Released: 2017
Dir: Mel Damski
Writer: Tracy Andreen, Marlene McPherson, Elizabeth Synder
Cast: Bridget Regan, Travis Van Winkle, Raven Stewart, Teryl Rothery, Sarah Smyth, Alvin Sanders, Krystle Dos Santos
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017

The Sweetest Christmas (2017)

I don’t know how Candace Cameron Bure and Lacey Chabert became my Hallmark bêtes noires, though I suspect it may be because of their constant presence in the early going when I started this bad holiday movie habit. My specific gripe with CCB is easy to place. She overacts; every part of her performance is strained and all too eager to please. Maybe I have been unfair to Ms. Chabert though. After all, she is in one of my favorite movies ever, Anastasia. But I never seem to look forward to her performances, and though this can be said of many others, she always plays the same sweet but dull character. Rather than infecting others with her spirit of kindness, she just bores.

My mum does not mind, however, so that means I’ll be watching Chabert’s movies indefinitely if we’re going to continue trading notes, and The Sweetest Christmas, we concluded, is…okay. Chabert again plays the meek office girl, underappreciated by all around her. Kylie needs to step it up if she doesn’t want to get taken advantage of by her boss boyfriend, a guy who constantly talks about her as a team member and partner instead of my awesome and talented gf. When an expected proposal turns out to be just a promotion, mostly to his benefit, she calls it quits and refocuses her energy on her baking career. A former pastry chef, she hopes to start her own business and can do so if she wins the top prize at a local gingerbread competition.

But wait. You don’t think Kylie’s just going to go home and start baking. Of course there are a hundred things that get in her way. She is living at her sister’s place, her niece has just melted a bunch of toys in the oven, another oven won’t be ready until after Christmas, she gets belated notice that the semi-finals are in a week, and she still has to plan the office Christmas party. When the hell will she have time to design her award-winning concoction and where the hell is she going to find an oven big enough to handle trays and trays of gingerbread, she wonders as she sees her ex-boyfriend who is now the owner of a local pizzeria which he took over from his deceased parents? How serendipitous. Hot dad Nick (Lea Coco) offers his very shiny ovens in return for baking advice for his son’s Christmas party. I’m not sure it’s a fair deal, but they seem to think it is.

This movie is another case of misspent resources. We get a glimpse of a few especially flashy gingerbread structures, not houses, at the end, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had some Food Network levels of gingerbread porn? I think the whole process of designing and building these things is more interesting than the routine story. Though the latter produces a few sparks, the relationship generally feels like a chore. Chabert and Coco are a fine pair; they bicker in all the right places and then let the wise black friend/kitchen staff, Ralphie (Jonathan Adams), help them see the light. I guarantee you won’t remember them in a few weeks time though, which makes this kind of a wasted effort.

Released: 2017
Writer: Erin Dobson
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Lea Coco, Lara Gilchrist, Jonathan Adams, Corina Akeson, Brenden Sunderland
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017

With Love, Christmas (2017)

There’s a fluffy Himalayan cat that curls its way into a few scenes and is, in my heart, the real star of the movie, but I guess we’re here to talk about the people. Oh, these pretty, pretty people. Emilie Ullerup and Aaron O’Connell exist to remind me that I have a radio voice and face, but at least they give me a pleasant Hallmark movie to watch in the process. While little about the story really impresses, Ullerup’s performance is sterling and probably the best of all the leads this season. She should front the network instead of regulars like Candace Cameron Bure and Lacey Chabert, unless of course she has a better class of movies to make.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the hell out of her here. She plays ad manager Melanie Welch to O’Connell’s Donovan Goodwin. The two are colleagues at the same ad agency but don’t interact much thanks to Donovan’s utter lack of social skills. I mean, the guy can’t even hang around the water cooler and talk about the weather without making things awkward. So it gets tricky when they pick each other as their secret Santa, then are paired for a mobile phone pitch, and then find out they are competing against each other for a promotion.

There’s a little bit of You’ve Got Mail along with all the confusion and mistaken identity that comes with exchanging anonymous emails. Melanie decides to set up a fake account and write Donovan to figure out what she should get him. Their terse exchange, well on his part, gradually grows into something more as he begins to share his insecurities and personal issues, not knowing that he’s actually talking to his partner. Emotionally closed due to a fractured relationship with his father, Donovan heeds his secret Santa’s advice and encouragement and starts to join the human race, going so far as to hang out with the rest of the office at ice skating night. (Okay, in fairness, I probably wouldn’t want to go skating with my colleagues either.)

O’Connell shows that he’s more than a model and fit to play characters that aren’t just thick pretty boys. Donovan undergoes an admirable transformation from a grumpy and aloof worker bee who thinks “the only magical thing about Christmas are the sales numbers” to someone who embraces the spirit of generosity in thought, word, and action. Ullerup is true reason to watch this movie though. She’s not merely competent as most Hallmark actors are. She’s at complete ease with her character. Nothing feels forced about her performance, not even her slightest reactions. Whether Melanie is just laughing off a friend’s odd comment or trying to hide her disappointment when Donovan mistakes someone else for his secret Santa, she’s as natural as they come. My Christmas wish for next year? More movies starring her.

Released: 2017
Dir: Marita Grabiak
Writer: Marcy Holland
Cast: Emilie Ullerup, Aaron O’Connell, Rebecca Davis, Lindsay Winch, Kazumi Evans, Milo Shandel, Jett Klyne
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2017