Christmas movies

Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa (2018)

My primary takeaway from this movie is that I too would like a magical wish-granting snow globe. Also a trip on an old timey train with lacquered wood seats. The rest of the film, the second in the Christmas in Evergreen series, I could do without. It’s exactly the kind of thing people expect when you mention Hallmark Christmas movies, and everything from the plot to the dialogue drips with sap, the effect being not so sweet as it is gooey.

The fire engine red Mercury M-100 truck and said magical snow globe are back in Letters to Santa, but a new set of protagonists sweeps into Evergreen for this holiday story. Allie (Ashley Williams), the vet with the unmistakable truck, is out of town for the week and lends her motor to Kevin (Mark Deklin), a roving contractor visiting his dad, Henry (Daryl Shuttleworth). Also home for the holidays is Lisa (Jill Wagner), who left Evergreen as a kid but has always longed to come back. She’s disappointed to learn that her favorite Christmasy place, Daisy’s General Store, has shuttered and that its beloved owner (BJ Harrison) has passed. Her homecoming is further spoiled by news that the building will be turned into a chain store if a local buyer can’t be found.

Thankfully, Lisa has experience convincing buyers to purchase whole ass stores. A stager with aspirations of opening a home design business with her partner (Andrew Francis), she knows just how many Christmas trees and homemade ornaments Daisy’s needs to attract the right owner. But first she has to get the place cleaned up, and so she turns to hot contractor. Kevin is reluctant to accept such a rushed job, but he’s also loathe to turn down the woman who’s super hyped and begging for his help. After they get to work, they realize that her interior design skills and his construction know-how might not be enough to sell the store. When Lisa finds a decades-old letter to Santa, she decides on a new strategy. She figures a buyer might be convinced if they saw Evergreen in all its Christmas glory, so she enlists the help of her new friends to revive some old traditions, like a candlelight procession, carol singing, and church bells – all the things you’ll have on your Hallmark bingo card.

Letters to Santa manages to keep its focus despite an ensemble cast and sprawling subplots; the school principal (Holly Robinson Peete) takes a chance on a handsome stranger (Colin Lawrence), and a kid (Marlon Kazadi) hunts for the lock that goes with his special key. However, the movie never breaks past the façade of Christmas cheer, and much of the excitement looks and feels superficial. Warner sets that tone with her depiction of Lisa, yet another one of the actor’s polished, can-do characters. Lisa’s the sort who can problem solve her way out of any mess, and that leaves little room for vulnerability, even when she reaches a difficult decision regarding her job and her feelings for Kevin. Deklin, on the other hand, gives a far more nuanced portrayal. Kevin clearly has some issues to work out with his dad, and his character is the only one for whom Evergreen’s nostalgia trip might prove transformative. There are just too few characters one can connect with though. The filmmakers seem to have taken a page from Lisa’s playbook, thinking that the right props – Santa’s letter box, a church choir, a frozen pond – will be enough to sell their story, but it doesn’t quite have the warmth of being home for the holidays.

Released: 2018
Dir: Sean McNamara
Writer: Zac Hug
Cast: Jill Wagner, Mark Deklin, Holly Robinson Peete, Barbara Niven, Michelle Martin, Chris Cope, BJ Harrison, Andrew Francis, Rukiya Bernard, Colin Lawrence, Marlon Kazadi, Daryl Shuttleworth
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020

Merry Liddle Christmas (2019)

Merry Liddle Christmas is a merry liddle mess but not without some enjoyable moments. If it were up to me, I’d cut most of the dialogue and about half an hour of runtime. I would, however, keep the plot and the actors while ramping up production values and the music budget. The story, inspired by lead actor Kelly Rowland’s own disastrous Christmas, features a bare bones script about tech developer Jacquie Liddle, who wants to host her family at her new Silicon Valley smart home for the first time. Her good intentions and belief in her own organizational skills, however, go by the wayside when everyone arrives.

This is a movie that thrives on Christmas chaos. Everything that can go wrong does, and predictably so. Her parents (Debbi Morgan and Chris Shields) pull up in their van loaded with the family’s Christmas decorations, many of which are homemade and all of which clash with her minimalist aesthetic. Her two sisters (Latonya Williams and Bresha Webb) and their rowdy families come and shatter the calm that she’s used to. Now with three kids, a dog, and an Alexa-like device called Benson under her roof, type A Jacquie is in for a long the weekend and some serious headaches.

Disagreements with her family members, who don’t appreciate her fancy house and lifestyle enough to her liking, ensure that this will be a Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons. The story is relatable, even if most of us live in a house the size of Jacquie’s living room. Who hasn’t felt the excitement of showing off a new home and homemaking skills only for some fools to misbehave and cut off the power or shred one’s expensive down pillows? And even if things don’t get that extreme, there’s still the inadequacy that comes from failing to recreate your perfect childhood Christmas.

These feelings are forced though, and this rough draft of a script needs a lot more heft before the characters and plot are fully realized. It’s as if the writers are banking on us to be distracted by the holiday madness. Almost from the start, everything goes wrong for Jacquie. When she’s not battling plastic lawn ornaments or the turkey fryer, she’s mopping up juice stains and trying to appease her string cheese-loving nephew with a chunk of Stilton. It’s a chain reaction that keeps everyone running around until everything comes crashing down, almost literally, while she’s also filming a segment for some show called Queen of the Castle. Jacquie’s been chosen to feature in the program and hopes to use the chance to impress some higher ups, but the shoot doesn’t go quite as planned. The resulting rift is unearned in a way. While she’s bound to explode sooner or later, Jacquie barely mentions what should be a major plot point until a film crew shows up at her door.

The jerky pacing and overall lack of cohesion take away from movie’s better moments. There aren’t too many, but the film is at it’s best when the characters are engaged in quiet conversations and not trying to untangle themselves from a string of lights. In one early scene that doesn’t come across as overly scripted, the three sisters flip through a dating app and find Jacquie’s handsome neighbor (Thomas Cadrot). There’s a humor and candor that helps establish their relationship. I also like when Kiki, the messier sister, and her brother-in-law (Jaime M. Callica) escape the madness and bond over a glass of Baileys and their insecurities, giving both characters some needed dimension. In fact, every Liddle gets his or her moment to shine and to show off an interior life. The film would be better off emphasizing this instead of the holiday disaster it plays up.

“Love You More at Christmas Time” by Kelly Rowland:

 

Released: 2019
Dir: Bosede Williams
Writer: Andrea Stevens
Cast: Kelly Rowland, Thomas Cadrot, Debbi Morgan, Chris Shields, Latonya Williams, Bresha Webb, Jaime M. Callica
Time: 87 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2020

A Date By Christmas Eve (2019)

A Date By Christmas Eve doesn’t have much going for it. In fact, star Vanessa Lengies is about the only reason to watch this movie about a woman whose life goes topsy-turvy when she starts using an enchanted dating app. Chelsea (Lengies), a developer or marketer of some sorts, gives said app a makeover, redesigning the interface and substituting swipes for naughty and nice lists. When a colleague steals her idea and her promotion though, she gets some help from a mysterious Mrs. Kringle (Morgan Fairchild).

Lengies holds the movie together and makes Chelsea an instantly likable and sympathetic lead. The actor elevates her character to more than the basic nice girl. Chelsea can be generous to a fault, giving in to the whims of her needy roommate, Keegan (Katherine Bailess), and putting in double time to finish her work, but she’s also not the hapless pushover she could have been. While easily persuaded, she stands up for herself when it matters, even if she’d rather avoid a confrontation. After learning her boyfriend, Rod (Taylor Frey), is playing the field, on her app no less, she dumps the guy. Then she finds the gumption to call out her coworker, Blythe (Julie McNiven), when she passes off Chelsea’s upgrade ideas as her own.

The poor woman can’t get a break, until she meets the model for the app’s ad campaign. Mrs. Kringle sprinkles some of her magic Santa dust, and suddenly getting on Chelsea’s naughty or nice list has real consequences. Chelsea’s wishes for her friends and foes start to come true. Rod, for example, begins to appreciate her in ways he never did while they were dating, and Keegan breaks out in her new and confident self. While well intentioned though, these wishes lead to unexpected and not entirely welcome changes in Chelsea’s personal and professional life. They also wreak havoc on her relationship with her super nice and chill neighbor, Fisher (Evan Williams), the guy who clearly is the one for her.

It takes a while for Chelsea to see that, and meanwhile, watching the movie is just waiting for the script to hit all the marks. This is a tidy story in which every character neatly defined by their one or two signature characteristics. Chelsea finds a way to contain the mess, and things wrap up in a predictable but satisfying conclusion. Aside from Lengies’s performance though, there’s nothing special about this film. Chelsea’s kindness doesn’t resonate in any larger way. This story will warm you, since most stories about the sweet girl who tries to do some good and then has to patch things up when they backfire would, but the feeling disappears as soon as the movie’s over.

Alt Title: The Naughty List
Released: 2019
Dir: Jake Helgren
Writer: Jake Helgren
Cast: Vanessa Lengies, Evan Williams, Katherine Bailess, Julie McNiven, Morgan Fairchild, Nikki Soohoo,Taylor Frey, Michelle Mitchenor, Ashley Holliday Tavares
Time: 93 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Lifetime
Reviewed: 2020