Western TV reviews

Last Vermont Christmas (2018)

Last Vermont Christmas is another unspectacular entry in the “save the family home” genre of Christmas films. Every year, Megan Marvin (Erin Cahill) and her two sisters go back to Woodstock, Vermont for the holidays. This year, however, their parents surprise them with the news that they’re going to sell the house and move to Sedona. Oldest sister Bethany (Rachel Rhodes-Devey) is ambivalent above the plans while youngest sister Audrey (Catherine Corcoran) is indignant, in part because she’s living at home having given up on her music dreams in Nashville. That leaves Megan to finesse the situation. She’s happy that her parents can now do some of things they’ve been putting on hold all these years, but she’s still disappointed to see their very large and handsome home put on the market.

That the potential buyer is her high school boyfriend complicates her feelings. Nash (Justin Bruening) has decided to forgo life in sunny southern California and return home to Vermont. Now he’s partnering with Lane (Chantal Maurice), a real estate agent, to buy and flip houses, the first of which happens to be the Marvin family home. Between supervising inspections and trying to get ideas for a remodel, Nash ends up spending a lot of time around his former girlfriend and her family. The more he takes part in their Christmas traditions, the more old memories and feelings flood back.

The movie is a pleasant watch, and I didn’t dislike it. It’s nice to see less familiar faces, and both Cahill and Bruening are a welcome change of pace, especially if you’re binging on holiday movies. Corcoran has good chemistry with Alan Pontes, who plays another old friend whom she enlists to thwart her parents’ plan. I doubt the movie is one you’ll want to revisit though. It’s perfectly ordinary, which is also to say it’s kind of boring. There’s nothing, not the story nor the characters nor even the house, to distinguish this film from the others Hallmark pumps out at this time of year. It’s really the same old same old done in the same old fashion. Megan has a good cry about the memories and her past – she’s also recovering from the death of her husband a few years back – but is buoyed by finding a Christmas tree, building snowmen, and making cookies with Nash and the rest of her family. You could have it in the background while you’re tackling your own holiday preparations, but you could also skip it entirely for something more fun and festive.

Released: 2018
Dir: David Jackson
Writer: Blaine Chiappetta
Cast: Erin Cahill, Justin Bruening, Samarah Conley, Catherine Corcoran, Rob Figueroa, Chantal Maurice, Jim O’Hare, Ann Osmond, Alan Pontes, Rachel Rhodes-Devey
Time: 76 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

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Love to the Rescue (2019)

I may not be a dog person, but Love to the Rescue wins me over thanks to its appealing story and two likeable leads. Nikki Deloach and Michael Rady play single parents who agree to share an elderly rescue dog, Bruce, when they can’t agree which one of them will adopt him. The loveable mutt doesn’t figure too prominently, but he makes the most of his cameo and is the reason the couple and their families come together.

Deloach and Rady are the key to this film, one of Hallmark’s better efforts. They have great rapport and bring out the comedy in this well-written script. Unlike most Hallmark characters, Kate and Eric seem like real people. They joke around and rib each other for being stubborn and awkward, and their conversation has a natural rhythm that makes it easier to buy into their relationship, even if the story’s premise is a little more fanciful.

The two parents are at an impasse after they realize they both want the same dog for their child. Neither wants to disappoint their kid and just get another dog. After all, Kate’s analytical daughter, Sophia (Michaela Russell), went through the trouble of making an adoption power point presentation, and Eric’s son, Owen (Max Ivutin), just really wants this pooch after a difficult few years. The shelter assistant suggests they share Bruce for a month and see whether he prefers one home over another. This sounds like a terrible idea and a sure way to confuse poor Bruce, but it also allows Kate and Eric to spend most of their off-hours together, so we’ll just go with it.

In no time, their children bond over the dog and become inseparable from Bruce and each other. Kate and Eric are not so quick to get along, however, and squabble over their doggy parenting styles. Kate, an animated film director, is more relaxed when it comes to Bruce’s training, preferring to let things happen when they happen. Eric, on the other hand, can’t shut off his inner municipal technocrat, laminating sheets of rules and guidelines for both households to follow.

The film is rich with details and characters that give it a lot of dimension. Liam (Anthony Triceri), Kate’s ex-husband, is a great supporting character and really makes his presence felt. He doesn’t have a big part, but we still get a full picture of his personality and his loving relationship with his ex-wife and daughter. Eric’s involvement in the PTA likewise allows the story to branch off in several directions, touching on his past and prompting him to rethink his career path. As a bonus, we also get to see some of Kate’s film, a firefly love story, that she is hoping to enter in a local film festival. It’s not often I recommend a Hallmark movie so unreservedly, but this is one that feels fresh at every turn.

Released: 2019
Dir: Steven R. Monroe
Writer: Sarah Montana
Cast: Nikki Deloach, Michael Rady, Michaela Russell, Max Ivutin, Anthony Triceri, Bisserat Tseggai, Brandhyze Stanley, Hannah Tinker
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

Snowed-Inn Christmas (2017)

Hallmark may have the holiday TV movie market cornered, but I’m not sorry Lifetime is making a push and poaching their competitor’s talents. In the last few years, we’ve seen the likes of Niall Matter, Nicky Whelan, and Rachel Boston migrate over, bringing fans including myself along with them. I’m not sorry for wanting to jump ship though because Lifetime is doing something that Hallmark hasn’t done for years, something that has nothing to do with storytelling. It’s an attempt at diversity, not a great one, but a noticeable one nonetheless, and I support. Both channels will give you predictable romances that inevitably wrap up with a tidy, feel-good ending, but only Lifetime is making some attempt to break from the token black boss or black best friend.

I noticed the effort in the opening minutes of Snowed-Inn Christmas. The brother-in-law of the main character is Eric (Aaron Radwanski), a black guy who shares a biracial daughter and a physically affectionate relationship with his white wife. The other person of color is Simone (Tasha Smith). She spends most of the film as the token black boss, but Lifetime surprises with a short twenty second scene at the end, showing her enjoying Christmas with a houseful of relatives. It’s not strictly necessary – the scene, which involved a work-related phone call, could have played out anywhere to the same effect – but it gives these characters an interior life instead of just using them in sterile, perfunctory parts.

Of course, these aren’t the main reasons to enjoy the movie. Andrew Walker and Bethany Joy Lenz are always worth watching even if their movies don’t match their charisma. The two make a feisty team of dueling magazine writers trying to save their jobs. Both are sent to an Aspen resort over the winter holiday and tasked with writing an online feature. The assignment comes with a twist though. The magazine needs to make cuts, and their editor, Simone, can only afford to keep the writer whose article attracts the most readers. With Christmas just one week away, this doesn’t seem like great planning on Simone’s part, but it all works out in the end because her two writers, Kevin and Jenna, take a detour that saves more than the magazine.

They end up in Santa Claus, Indiana after bad weather prevents them from continuing on to Aspen. An old couple, Carol and Chris Winters (Belinda Montgomery and John B. Lowe), offers them a room at their inn, and Kevin and Jenna try to make the most of it when they realize they’ll be there for awhile. Indiana clearly rubs Kevin the wrong way, however. He’s mum about the reason, but it seems related to his dad. Meanwhile, Jenna loves the inn’s history and happily digs through crates of old ornaments and photos. Things take a strange turn when she finds a picture from the early nineteenth century, one that appears to show Carol and Chris. But before they can solve that mystery, the writers are drawn into the Winters’ fight to save their inn, which is due to be closed and redeveloped within the year. The couple need documentation proving they own the historical landmark, but their real identity complicates things.

If you’re feeling the Christmas spirit and are looking for a movie that asks you to believe the unbelievable, this is one to check out. Walker and Lenz are by far the best part of the film, and their firecracker chemistry helps the story push through the duller midsection, when they’ve decided to give up their hyper-competitive ways. I wish Lifetime and Hallmark would get their collective heads together and come up with more challenging storylines though. Kevin and Jenna are roles that the two actors have played countless times before, and all I want for Christmas is a little change of pace (which I know I can do by changing the channel).

Released: 2017
Dir: Gary Yates
Writer: Carley Smale
Cast: Bethany Joy Lenz, Andrew Walker, Belinda Montgomery, John B. Lowe, Tasha Smith, Stephanie Moroz, Aaron Radwanski, Susanna Portnoy
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2019

A Brush with Love (2019)

A Brush with Love is a Pinterest board come to life. It’s all pretty pastels, cherry blossoms, and the cute British guy. (Okay, it’s my Pinterest board.) But while it’s nice to look at and dream about for an hour or two, it’s also a bit random and serves little purpose. (Again, my Pinterest board.) Arielle Kebbel and Nick Bateman play Jamie and Max, two beautiful people who hate each other. They are childhood acquaintances – she is best friends with his sister – and they meet again when he rents the apartment below hers. The two seem to be going in separate directions but are ultimately united by their artistic passions.

It takes a lot before they realize this though. There’s a studio opening, a missed job opportunity, a desperate art show entry, and of course said British guy. Jamie is the owner of Canvas Creations, a small art studio that she plans on expanding with the help of her retired father. She enjoys teaching young students and helping them find inspiration, but she’s also kind of settled into this life. A painter at heart, she’s put aside her true love after experiencing disappointment upon disappointment. Her dream is to have her own show in Paris, but she can’t even manage the top prize at the local art exhibition. This may be due to the fact that her paintings look like something out of the bargain bin at Big Lots, but what do I know?

In waltzes Max, a landscape architect who prefers working as a groundskeeper because it gets him in the dirt and out of administrative responsibilities. Jamie loathes him because of the many times he’s teased and humiliated her through the years. The real sticker is something he did fifteen years ago when he sent her love notes in class, convincing her that she had a secret admirer. It’s not hard to deduce that Max has always been in love with his sister’s best friend; he just has a shitty, teenager way of showing it. But now he has to convince her that he’s in earnest and not a rootless commitment-phobe, a task made harder by the appearance of Michael (Matthew James Dowden). Michael has the qualities Jamie wants most in a guy, namely focus and ambition. He also brings her pretty pink flowers.

Hallmark is all about the fantasy of love, and since Bateman is not my type, I probably wasn’t going to care for this movie anyway. Max is squinty and good looking in an anonymous model sort of way, which may be why he doesn’t seem to have much personality. Kebbel does a better job of showing off her character’s insecurities, and Jamie’s struggles are at the forefront. I can’t help but feel that she’s being too hard on Max though. Despite his reputation, he doesn’t show himself to be a fickle, womanizing jerk that others, including his sister, make him out to be.

Released: 2019
Dir: Peter DeLuise
Writer: Katherine S. Chang, Joie Botkin
Cast: Arielle Kebbel, Nick Bateman, Matthew James Dowden, Hilary Jardine, Adil Zaidi, Daryl Shuttleworth, Kathleen Duborg, Brenda Crichlow
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

Love on Ice (2017)

Love on Ice stars two things I love – figure skating and Andrew Walker – so I’m more fond of this film than I would otherwise be. The story’s not thrilling, but the sight of an empty rink, clean ice, and Walker on a pair of blades is, to me anyway. The actor plays Spencer, a young coach who arrives in Michigan to train Nikki (Ana Golja), skating’s Next Big Thing. There, he discovers Emily (Julie Berman), skating’s Next Big Thing from eight years ago who now teaches at the local rink and moonlights as a waitress. After seeing her land a couple axels and cut a mean spiral, he proposes coaching her as well.

Emily is reluctant. As Nikki’s friend and mentor, she doesn’t want to do anything that would interfere with Nikki’s training and chances at the upcoming regional championship. More importantly, she’s not sure if she has the heart or the money for this level of competition anymore. After stepping away from the sport when her mom died, she has since settled back at home, happily channeling her talents as an instructor.

It’s a lot of story to work with, but the movie doesn’t pick up on any one strand. Besides Emily’s “why the hell not” brand of decision-making, there’s also Nikki’s tug-of-war relationship with her pushy skating mom (Gail O’Grady). The late appearance of a second coach adds more selfish, duplicitous behavior into the mix, and then there is the question of Spencer’s own ambitions, which may be prompting him to act in his best interests and not those of Emily or Nikki. Since the film lacks a driving narrative, it’s hard to figure out which story or stories it really wants to tell, and each subplot, character, and relationship feels half-finished. The one I thought deserved the most attention was the friendship between the two skaters, one that could have easily soured but that is instead very supportive.

The film makes up for this with actual skating. It sometimes gets lazy with the technicalities. Spencer’s coaching consists of yelling “get up” a lot or, to mix things up, “center” when someone needs to tighten her spin. I’m not sure he has what it takes to make it to the elite ranks, but at least he’ll look good trying. Anyway, it’s a lot of ice time for a TV movie, and Hallmark’s got stunt doubles launching salchows and axels like nobody’s business. The final competition is choppy highlight reel of spins and jumps, and I wish they would have slowed things down with at least a good minute of Emily or Nikki’s program. All is forgiven in the final shot when Emily whips into an effortless layback.

Released: 2017
Dir: Bradley Walsh
Writer: Matthew Coppola
Cast: Julie Berman, Andrew Walker, Linda Kash, Ana Golja, Gail O’Grady, Kate Drummond, Ipsita Paul
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019