Category: arts and entertainment

Highs and Lows of Christmas Movies 2018

The new year is here and I am taking down my Christmas décor. It has been quite the season with me covering every new Christmas movie in 2018 whether on television or feature film. All together I watched 85 new films over Christmas:

Here are some of my takeaways from the season:

Highs-

    1. Whimsy for the Win- whether on Hallmark, Lifetime or Netflix, movies with a little bit of magic and whimsy won me over. I really enjoyed Shoe Addict’s Christmas where Candace Cameron Bure learns the risks she could have taken in her life from the amazing Jean Smart and how she should take more leaps of faith in the future.
      Christmas Perfection on Lifetime was in deed perfection with its story of a girl who gets to live her perfect Irish Christmas over and over again including having her friends and family act just the way she wishes they would. Naturally, it isn’t too long before she realizes the perfect Christmas isn’t so perfect after all. It was funny, sweet and had something to say. Other whimsy that worked for me A Very Nutty Christmas, Christmas Chronicles, A Christmas Switch, The Truth About Christmas and believe it or not Santa Jaws.
    2. Ensembles are the Best- most of my favorite movies of 2018 Christmas were less 2 people romances and more ensemble pieces about an entire town or family celebrating Christmas. I loved Road to Christmas with its funny script and likable performances, Christmas Pen Pals was amazing telling multiple love stories all through the medium of writing love letters, Last Vermont Christmas told the story of a family and I related to it strongly (they even have a cooking competition which my siblings did and the 3 sisters could have been me and my sisters).
      Christmas on Holly Lane was a bit more grim and realistic but its strong cast and multiple storylines made me wish it was a pilot to a series not just a movie. The When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing was a return to form after a rough season 5 and one of the best episodes the series has done.
      Hometown Holiday did a good job telling multiple love stories, had a snow room and a really well executed near kiss (no more O Holy Night in these movies! It’s a really hard song!). I also loved Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa which told multiple stories of a town. Some were silly fun and a few like the lead and his rocky relationship with his Dad were surprisingly touching. Finally, Anna and the Apocalypse combined zombies, musicals and Christmas with a strong ensemble to create a delightful feature film.
    3. Hit the Formula Well- some movies this season worked for me almost in spite of themselves. The charismatic actors and bubbly touches won me over to admittedly tired premises. The Christmas Contract had a fresh non-Winter setting and 2 leads bubbling with chemistry in the fake fiancé Christmas trope. A Majestic Christmas didn’t villainize either character for working hard, had great chemistry and a dancing scene that I loved. Christmas Bells are Ringing made me actually like a Hallmark wedding and Christmas Joy was just bonkers enough to be fun.
      A Godwink Christmas and Once Upon a Christmas Miracle were both based on true stories and were very sweet with excellent casts. It’s Christmas Eve actually went a little meta with the script commenting on romcom clichés and it worked for me. I also enjoyed Every Day is Christmas‘s take on A Christmas Carol with the focus being on the Scrooge character not being obsessed with money, but failing to overcome her grief at the loss of her parents being a clever take.
      No Sleep Til Christmas took a wacky concept of insomniacs ‘sleeping’ together and worked it into a classic romcom mold and it was charming. Mr 365 is a fun one if you like something a little bit steamier and Country Christmas Album did the fading singers making an album together story well. I also liked Christmas at Grand Valley, Mingle All the Way, The Princess Switch, Christmas Lost and Found and Small Town Christmas mostly because of the cast and some swoonworthy moments (I loved the date in Grand Valley!).

LOWS

There were definitely some lows in the season so let’s talk about those

    1. Grown-up in the Wrong Ways- Some of the worst of the season were films that in trying to be edgy missed the mark. The biggest offender was Life Size 2 which solution to making the original Disney Channel property grown up was talk about sex a lot. I also hated Christmas Manger who seemed to believe a faith-based message means a lot of anger, abuse and misery (watch Angela’s Christmas instead for a good faith-based film).
      A lot of people loved Every Other Holiday but I’m not one of them. I thought all of the characters were extremely selfish, and I had zero faith the renewed relationship would be a happy one at the end. Shoelaces for Christmas was tough to get through with one of the most selfish, obnoxious teenage protagonists I’ve seen in a while. I also did not like Homegrown Christmas with Lori Loughlin’s sister acting like a jerk and Victor Webster’s leading man having a grudge that was unreasonable. A Wedding for Christmas had my least favorite TV movie trope- the mean-spirited wedding planner/bridezilla, and big surprise- I did not like it!Finally Christmas Everlasting had so much good but was hurt by a quilting guild of women that had a token black friend and when she dies they replace her with her sister immediately! They were the worst!
    2. Yawn, Did I Just Watch a Movie- I mentioned movies where the formula was executed well. Sadly there were a bunch where it did not work for me. My least favorite from Hallmark was Return to Christmas Creek where the family drama was contrived and grating (as was the reconciliation) and the movie judged a perfectly reasonable Christmas as being not good enough. Let people celebrate however they want!I also thought Poinsettias for Christmas, Santa’s Boots, Christmas at the Palace, Entertaining Christmas, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, Memories of Christmas, Christmas Around the Corner, Christmas Wonderland, Christmas with a Prince, Christmas at Honeysuckle Lane, Jingle Belle, Hope at Christmas, A Christmas in Royal Fashion, Welcome to Christmas, Christmas in Tennessee all failed to make any kind of impact on me. Either chemistry wasn’t there or the script didn’t work, and I will quickly forget they even existed.
    3. Jane Austen Failure- both of the attempts to brand films with Pride and Prejudice failed on Hallmark channel. Christmas at Pemberley Manor was the better of the two but it had almost nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice except for having the same character names. Pride Prejudice and Mistletoe was based on a separate novel, which I did not like, and the script was about 2 people planning a party, which I do not recall being an element of Pride and Prejudice LOL. Neither of these movies had anything to do with Pride and Prejudice so it was distracting to be constantly looking for those elements.
    4. Medium Movies- there were also a bunch of movies that were passable entertainment (better than the yawns) but nothing to write home about. Those include The Grinch, Holiday Calendar, My Christmas Inn, A Veteran’s Christmas (too cheesy for me but nice elements), Christmas at Graceland, Time for me to Come home for Christmas, Northern Lights of Christmas, Jingle Around the Clock (they tried so hard on this one but too much boardroom talk), Christmas on the Coast, Christmas in Love, A Gingerbread Romance, Hometown Christmas, A Twist of Christmas, A Midnight Kiss and The Christmas Pact. All of these got around 3/5 from me.

If I was going to give advice to Hallmark I’d say maybe not every movie has to be a person coming to the country and realizing her city life is awful? How about taking some risks like with Reunited at Christmas which was flawed but about a woman scared of marriage and wanting to live together with her boyfriend indefinitely. That’s a new topic for Hallmark!

I would also encourage all the studios to keep working on diversity. I appreciated Hallmark having POC leads for the first time. It perhaps wasn’t perfectly executed but it was a step in the right direction. Also I liked TVOne’s offerings especially Coins for Christmas with the delightful Essence Atkins.

Finally, there were some misses that were ambitious misses. In particular Nutcracker and the 4 Realms and A Snow White Christmas. Keep trying to think outside the box!

So there you have it. My report card of Christmas movies 2018. What were some of your favorites of this year at Christmas? I’d say it was a mixed year. A lot I enjoyed. A lot of meh but almost nothing that I absolutely hated like Engaging Father Christmas and The Perfect Christmas Present last year. Even Return to Christmas Creek was watchable. It was just its judgy tone that irritated me but it had cute moments.

From here we go on to Winterfest!

Fun Recent Activities in Utah

It’s no secret that I spend a lot of my life cooped up in doors. Sometimes people will say the weather has been bad but I don’t really know because I’ve been inside all day! So lately for my sanity I’ve been trying to get out and go to more activities- particularly plays and concerts and I thought I would give you a round up of what I’ve seen. Let me know if you’ve seen any of these and what you thought.

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First cool experience is I got to go to the Utah Symphony to hear a concert called An American in Paris which was half Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and half Schubert’s Symphony No 7 in C Major. I preferred the Gershwin but as Utah has one of the best symphonies in the country it was a great experience.

Next, if you’ve been following my blog you probably know my favorite book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Well, after 13 years he has a new book called Bridge of Clay which I am dying to read. He came to Salt Lake for a lecture and book signing and it was really neat. He autographed my book and I was able to tell him how much his writing meant to me. So cool!

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Then I tried out a new theater in Provo called The Hive.  They were putting on a new original play called The Bookbinders Tale, which I had heard great things about. Unfortunately I found it to be a bit hipstery for me. I think it felt it was being more groundbreaking in its themes and messages than it really was. Still, I like what they are trying to do with the theater and would definitely give them another chance.

Anyone who has been following my blog knows how much I adore Josh Groban. One of the coolest experiences of my life was in 2007 when my friend Camille got bumped from the nosebleeds to down right by the stage! I also love Idina Menzel and have seen her in concert. So I was thrilled to see they were touring together and snatched up a seat (a terrible seat but I was sitting by nice people so it was fun). They did an amazing job and sung all the songs I wanted them to. My only qualm was that the big screen was broken so we could barely see them (the photo of them is from the Deseret News). But other than that a fantastic concert!

I also had the chance to make a new friend named Ashley who is a member of a theater group I follow on facebook. Always good to go out of your comfort zone and meet someone new. 🙂

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As I was driving around in my hometown of Draper I noticed a sign for ‘A Night of Broadway’ by the Draper Philharmonic and Choral Society and decided to give it a try. To my delight it was such a great experience! Everything was so well done with so many different shows covered by talented singers and dancers. There were a few minor hiccups with microphones but other than that it was amazing and I hope to go to many more of their concerts

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I was very excited to see Hale Center Theaters latest version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I had seen it there once before years ago (at the old Hale of course) and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately this time I left with mixed feelings. It was fun and I enjoyed seeing it with my family I thought some of the casting was a little off (not great chemistry) and the show isn’t very memorable. I couldn’t tell you a single song. Also it doesn’t use the Sink Me and iconic poem very well. The production of the play was very good and great costumes.

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Next I was able to see 3 shows at Hale Center Theater Orem. 2 of them were at a double header of sorts. First I saw The Velveteen Rabbit, which is a play for children written by my former teacher Dave Smith. It was a very sweet little play for kids. Next I saw Anything Goes which is a bright and bubbly play full of Cole Porter songs. Naturally I loved it!

But the greatest surprise was seeing Daddy Long Legs which is a 2 person show based on the classic book (which I’m not high on and I like the movie even less). I went into it with low expectations but I wanted to support Dave and I ended up being delighted. The songs are great! It’s very romantic and I was amazed how they could learn so many lines! Very impressive!

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Finally I went to another ‘Night of Broadway’ this time at the Scera theater in Orem. It was full of talent and they mixed in the standards with some more obscure picks. It was great. My only complaint is the seats in that theater are so small I could barely sit through it and you can’t move the seat arm rest up making it quite uncomfortable. Oh well

So there you have it! It’s been a pretty fun Fall for checking out the arts. There are so many great things to see and do that it can be quite overwhelming. I’m grateful to live in such a artistic and talented place.

What have you been doing lately? Been to any plays or concerts? Any recommendations? Let me know! Thanks!

FANX18 Report

The last few years I have been able to attend Salt Lake City Comicon and have had a blast. This year because of a moronic legal decision it is called FANX18 and like most years I also had a blast. Unfortunately this report is late because I also got a classic case of Comicon cold where I was sick for a week after but it was still a ton of fun.

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One thing I have learned from going to a number of these conventions is I like panels. I don’t like photo ops or getting autographs (they are so expensive, poorly organized and just overall unpleasant). I also don’t love being on the vendor floor. I venture out a few times during a con but the crowds and lines are overwhelming.

Nope I like going to panels! I like hearing what the actors or panelists have to say about the property or their career. Even if they are somebody I don’t know much about or don’t follow their work I think it is interesting to hear about their experience. I am sure that some of it is showmanship for a very zealous crowd but even that can be fun.

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With that in mind this year I went to 21 panels over 3 days and they were amazing! The particular standout was in Friday where I got a perfect seat in the Grand Ballroom and stayed there all day through 10 panels! The highlight was a Smallville panel with Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum who were hilarious. I want a Welling/Rosenbaum road trip comedy movie!

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It was also really neat on Thursday I got to hear from Paige O’hara and Robby Benson who of course voice Belle and the Beast in the animated Beauty and the Beast. I loved hearing about their story and experiences working on one of my favorite movies. It was cool because Paige said she had aged out of voicing Belle (which shocked me!) but she was brought back for Wreck-it Ralph 2. This made me more excited for the princess scene in Wreck-it Ralph 2 because it meant so much to her. Also it was kind of funny because you could tell they weren’t too high on the 2017 remake. LOL

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The other panels I attended were Luna Lovegood panel, Star Wars fan film, Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary panel. Superman 78 tribute, Lucy Lawless/Renee O’Connor, Evangeline Lily, Rainn Wilson, David Tennant, Jeff Goldblum, Manut Bennet (who I was unfamiliar with but was very sweet with a very compelling and sad story), Karl Urban, Gaten Matarazzo, Chuck Norris, Jennifer Morrison, Star Wars Rebels panel including James Arnold Taylor and Freddie Prinze Jr, Ian McDiarmid (yes the emperor and he was great!), Brandon Routh, Brent Spiner and the Twisted Toonz which are always a highlight of the con.

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I also got to meet up with my friend AJ which was a ton of fun. I didn’t do cosplay this year and I regret that a little bit but it was great to see all of the other cosplay participants. It’s amazing how creative and original people are with their costumes.

I know some people who did photo ops were very frustrated with FANX18, but I had a great time! It was informative, fascinating and just a ton of fun. I also won a free multipass to next years event so that’s just awesome!

Have any of you been to comicons? I know there is the big one in San Diego but it’s hard to imagine it is much better as far as guests than SLC and the lines are certainly more manageable. But let me know your experience at cons.

Take care and happy nerding out!

I did updates on my youtube channel after each day. Here is the recap of day 2:

Recent Romcoms Worth Checking Out

Tonight I went and saw the new romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians and it is delightful. I read the book of the same name prior to seeing the film and they change a bit but it is a pretty dead-on adaptation. I will post my full review on either my youtube channel or my other movie blog but I thought it would be fun to share something here first. With the success of Crazy Rich Asians you will definitely hear about the ‘return of the romcom’ and while I agree with that there have been some fun films that went under the radar that I think are worth checking out. Some aired on Hallmark Channel (check out my Hallmarkies podcast if you haven’t already) and some were feature films.

So here is my list of recent romcoms you should check out! (in no particular order)

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Everybody Loves Somebody

I feel like this film should have been a bigger hit than it is. You have Karla Souza playing a doctor who has put romance on hold after a disappointment with a love played by Jose Maria Yazpik. She convinces her coworker played by Ben O’Toole to accompany her to a family wedding and when her ex shows up things get complicated. One of the coolest things about this movie is it is effortlessly bilingual. Clara speaks in Spanish with her family and then English with Asher and others at work. This is very unique and made the movie feel special. Clara can be a bit unlikable but she eventually won me over. It’s really sweet and fun.

all for love

All for Love

All for Love comes from Hallmark and it is one of the best from last year. It stars Sara Rue as a romance novelist named Jo who has lost her mojo. Her last book didn’t go over well and she is facing a deadline that her manager needs to do well. Since the book is about a navy seal Jo’s manager gets her brother (Steve Bacic) to put Jo through boot camp. They spar at first of course but they have a sweet chemistry and there are really cute scenes like when Colin teaches Jo how to swim and when he writes her a letter because he is too scared to tell her how he feels. It’s really sweet and the supporting cast is very charming.

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The Rewrite

Despite getting decent reviews, The Rewrite flew under people’s radar. Hugh Grant teams together with Marc Lawrence again (2 Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics) and make a really good romantic comedy. Hugh Grant plays a screenwriter who won an Oscar early in his career and has struggled to duplicate that success. Desperate he takes a job as a screenwriting professor at a small college in New England hoping something else will come along soon and get him out of there. A big key in enjoying this movie is if you can put up with his terrible behavior at the beginning of the film and if you feel like his change is sincere. I did. I love him and Marisa Tomei who plays one of his students. I love Allison Janney who is his Jane Austen loving supervisor. I love J.K. Simmons as a fellow professor who loves his family so much he cries whenever he talks about them. It’s a movie that has something to say about writing, reading, movies and work which I appreciate. It’s a good one!

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Off the Menu

Off the Menu actually came out in 2018 and I think I’m the only one championing it. I thought it was so sweet and winning. It stars Santino Fontana as Joel a trust fund kid who works for his family Mexican fast food chain and is sent to the Southwest to find some new flavors. There he meets the fiery chef Javiera (Dania Ramirez) who is protective of her recipes but has instant chemistry with Joel. The food porn is great. The romance is sweet and funny. I just really enjoyed it.

cafe societyCafé Society

Woody Allen can definitely be hit and miss but I enjoyed his 2016 offering Café Society. This film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young man named Bobby who goes out to Hollywood in the 1930s to make it big. Along the way he meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is dating a married man and the stunning Veronica (Blake Lively who is the classic shiksa goddess in this). It’s light and breezy and has great performances. Corey Stoll steals every scene he is in as Bobby’s mobster brother.

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Bridget Jones’s Baby

While not as strong as the original Bridget Jones movie this 3rd installment is a significant improvement over the terrible 2nd film. Renee Zellweger is back as Bridget and this time she has gotten herself pregnant and she isn’t sure is it Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) or the super sweet Jack (Patrick Dempsey). To be honest, the shenanigans involving the father and being pregnant didn’t do much for me but what I loved was every scene with her at her work for a television news station. Sarah Solemani as an anchor was hilarious and a scene where she mistakes a limo driver for the North Korean ambassador made me laugh. It’s not the greatest movie but I enjoyed it!

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The Birthday Wish

One of the best films to come out of Hallmark in recent years is The Birthday Wish. In a very clever screenplay by Julie Sherman Wolfe, the delightful Jessy Schram plays Gwen a woman who takes her career seriously as a commercial director and has been in a relationship with someone she seemingly has lots in common with (the always great wrong guy Marcus Rosner). Meanwhile her assistant director Dave played by Luke MacFarlane is just a friend she hasn’t paid much attention to. Well one day she makes a wish on her birthday and gets a glimpse of her life in 10 years and to her shock Dave is there! I like that it doesn’t go all Family Man on her and that her career and dreams are always respected by the screenplay. Luke MacFarlane and Jessy Schram have great chemistry and it’s really sweet and pleasant. I love it!

love and friendshipLove and Friendship

Honestly it feels a little unfair to have Love and Friendship in the same conversation as these other films as it is so far superior but oh well! Kate Beckinsale is so great as Lady Susan Vernon a woman who delights in manipulating and getting the best out of her friends and relatives. This might make her unlikable but as her relatives are stupid it is just hilarious. I love Whit Stillman’s adaptation. Someone like Lady Susan isn’t supposed to win in Jane Austen and yet I found myself rooting for her especially in her scenes with Chloe Sevigny’s character (so funny). It looks gorgeous and the entire cast does a great job. The fact that it got snubbed at the Oscars is ridiculous.

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Dash of Love

One of my biggest take-aways from covering Hallmark last year was how great director Christie Will Wolf is and how much I love Jen Lilley. I wasn’t crazy about their recent collaboration Yes I Do but Dash of Love and Eat Play Love from last year were delights. In Dash of Love Jen Lilley plays Nikki an aspiring self-taught chef who dreams of working in a fancy kitchen. Through various contrivances she ends up getting a job at her culinary idol’s (Peri Gilpin from Frasier) restaurant. There she meets chef Paul (Brendan Penny) and they start a really sweet engaging romance. Some of the conflict involving Paul’s family is a little much for me but this is classic romcom executed very well. The leads have chemistry and all the food porn is great. It’s very romantic and enjoyable.

So there you go! That is my recommendation for recent romantic comedies. Are there any I missed? Let me know in the comments section and if you’ve seen any of these I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why Don’t I Like Fantasy?

This month for book club we are reading a novel called Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta and once again like most fantasy novels I am struggling. My whole life I have never enjoyed fantasy novels or movies as much as most people do. Some are so good they have won me over as an adult- Lord of the Rings and Wrinkle in Time come to mind, but most I find deadly dull. And it’s so strange because most people get lost in all the imagination and creative world building where I am just dying. It makes me wonder why?

Even as a little girl I preferred books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women over Lord of the Rings or Redwall. The only genre I dislike more than fantasy are dystopians which sometimes are an off-shoot of fantasy. One exception is The Giver because that is really about a person and his coming to understand who he is and what it means to be human.

I remember a few years ago everyone was super into Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and I found it very slow and stretched out. It seemed to me a simple fairytale had been expanded well beyond where it should have been. Maybe my problem with fantasy is that I’m not the most imaginative reader in the world. So where other people are envisioning Hogwarts or Middle Earth I’m waiting for the story to start. Movies are better because we can forgo all that nonsense by seeing the images and get right to the story and characters (but honestly many fantasy movies are tough for me to get through such as The Hobbit movies KMN).

I like the Lord of the Rings movies because they have a clear moral goal of destroying the ring and the characters are compelling. I like half of the Harry Potter movies (3, 4, 5 and 7) and the rest bore me. I like Time Bandits because it’s funny and weird. I like fairytales because they are usually romantic and have good music (which brings up a good point that women in fantasy are usually pretty lame and the romance is weak).  Most fantasy stories have really bland characters that don’t interest me and so no matter how cool the world building is or fun the dragons are I can’t engage.

People act like I am really missing out on Game of Thrones because I chose to not watch it for its content but I know I would not like it. I know it even kills off its characters rather mercilessly which I would not enjoy as I get very attached to characters. Last year I read the first Dark Tower novel and I enjoyed that because the Man in Black and the Gunslinger were pretty engaging characters. I have been meaning to read more of them. The movie was terrible and turned them into total caricatures with a script that was very sloppy. I also was very disappointed in the recent movie version of A Wrinkle in Time that took a character driven story and made it muddled and preachy.

The last fantasy movie I can think of that I really loved is 2015’s Song of the Sea. This is a beautiful movie about a young boy grieving his mother who goes on a quest with magic and the lore of the selkie to help save his sister. It’s perfect! (Watch my review here) I also love both book and movie of Watership Down but that’s more of an allegory than fantasy in my opinion.

It’s just a strange thing when something that seemingly has so much excitement and creativity  is so dull for me. What do you think about fantasy novels and movies? What am I missing? Do any of you feel that way?