Tag: TV movies

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!

2018 Holiday Movie Survival Guide

“Wait a minute…” I can hear you saying upon reading the title of this blog “Halloween hasn’t even arrived and Rachel is already talking about Christmas movies?” Well my friends, in my world Christmas has officially arrived with the start of Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas season. It all begins this Saturday, October 27th, with the premiere of Christmas at Pemberley Manor.

Christmas at Pemberley Manor Final Photo Assets

 

Last year I gave you a ‘Hallmark Christmas Survival Guide‘ and all of those guidelines hold true for this year, but I thought I would add to it for 2018 and broaden the scope to more than just Hallmark Channel. So, here goes your 2018 Holiday Movie Survival Guide:

graceland

 

  1. Get Ready to Sing– Naturally singing usually goes along with Christmas but this year in particular we are seeing it showcased all over the place. Hallmark has 2 country music star vehicles with Christmas at Graceland (Kellie Pickler) and It’s Christmas, Eve (Leann Rimes). They also have films with singing in it such as the before mentioned Pemberley Manor, and likely in Christmas at Honeysuckle Lane, Christmas Wonderland, Midnight Kiss and more. There is also Time to Come Home for Christmas which is based on a Blake Shelton song and a book written by his mother, so I expect some original songs there.Other channels are getting in the game with Lifetime’s Christmas Harmony, Hometown Christmas and Jingle Belle, Up Network’s Hometown Holiday and Netflix’s  The Princess Switch.
    In the world of feature films get ready for the Christmas zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse!

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  2. Vermont is Holiday Magic Land- Hallmark has long had a love of the little state (movies such as Falling for Vermont and Moonlight in Vermont) but this year it is particularly the place of all Christmas magic.
    We have Last Vermont Christmas, Road to Christmas, Entertaining Christmas, and many others that appear to be set in Vermont but we don’t know yet from the preview
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  3. Royal is Romantic- With 2018 having 2 British royal weddings it shouldn’t be a surprise that many royal movies have crept their way into this season. Netflix alone is giving us 2 with The Princess Switch and A Christmas Prince: the Royal Wedding (a sequel to last year’s surprise hit A Christmas Prince). Up Network has Christmas with a Prince. Hallmark Channel has their 6th royal movie this year with Christmas at the Palace.pandp mistletoe
  4. Bring on the Classic Literature- this year we have a number of films based on classic literature. Naturally we have takes on A Christmas Carol with Every Day is Christmas from Lifetime and mildly A Shoe Addict’s Christmas (also based on the novel). In addition, we have 2 movies based on Pride and Prejudice with the before mentioned Pemberley Manor and Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe starring Lacey Chabert and Brendan Penny.
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  5. TV Reunions- another trend this year is bringing back cast-members from popular shows for Christmas movies. One Tree Hill alums Hilarie Burton and Robert Buckley are in The Christmas Contract on Lifetime. (Also from OTH is Bethany Joy Lenz in Poinsettias for Christmas on Lifetime). Also on Lifetime we have a Cosby Show reunion with Tempsett Bledsoe  and Keisha Knight Pulliam in Jingle Belle. (Also from Cosby Show is Dondre Whitfield in Christmas Everlasting on Hallmark who played a memorable role as Vanessa’s smug boyfriend Robert for multiple episodes).
    Finally, you won’t want to miss a Wonder Years reunion with Danica McKellar and Dan Lauria reteaming for Christmas at Grand Valley.christmas everlasting
  6. Diversity- What’s this? Non-white people celebrate Christmas? This is very exciting. We have POC leads on 6 Hallmark movies with Christmas Everlasting (the Hall of Fame film), A Majestic Christmas, Memories of Christmas, A Gingerbread Romance, Christmas Made to Order and Midnight Kiss.
    On Lifetime we have My Christmas Inn, The Christmas Pact, Jingle Belle, Every Day is Christmas, A Twist of Christmas and Christmas Lost and Found. Also on Netflix is the adorable looking The Holiday Calendar starring Kat Graham.
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  7. Christmas Magic Everywhere but Hallmark- with 37 new premieres you’d think we would be seeing lot of St Nick and his elves on Hallmark but alas it is not to be. The only potential Christmas Magic (outside of God magic with A Godwinks Christmas) is possibly Northern Lights of Christmas which is about a woman who inherits a reindeer farm and Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa (although it may be just letters no actual Santa sighting). There is a magical guardian angel in Shoe Addicts Christmas but no Santa.
    Fortunately the other channels are coming through in droves. On Lifetime we have Santa’s Boots, Christmas Perfection, and the epic A Very Nutty Christmas about a nutcracker that comes to life! Also A Christmas in Tennessee teases a visitor with a ” well-known sweet tooth for cookies and milk”
    On Netflix we have The Holiday Calendar and The Christmas Chronicles with Kurt Russell playing Santa.
    You won’t want to miss The Truth About Christmas on Freeform about a woman who is cursed to not be able to lie after sitting on Santa’s lap. And on Up Network we have A Christmas Switch about 2 Moms that switch places magically for Christmas.
    And we may actually get a good feature film of The Nutcracker with Disney’s Nutcracker and the 4 Realms.
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  8. Technology is the Thief of Love- this isn’t necessarily a new theme but I noticed in a lot of the descriptions mentions of apps or websites mucking things up for our heroines. The biggest example is Mingle All the Way about an app designer who tries to match businessmen and women together with her app but ends up matching much more. Return to Christmas Creek and It’s Christmas Eve also feature app/website designers.  And on Lifetime we have Christmas Pen Pals about an app that connects lovelorn with pen pals.

So there you have it! Christmas season is upon us, and I can’t wait! Make sure you are following The Hallmarkies Podcast as we cover all these films in one way or another. We have interviews and guests lined up and it is going to be amazing!

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)

everybody loves somebody

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.

rewrite

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!

off the menu

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.

bridget jones baby

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!

birthday wish

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.

dash of love

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.

My Favorite Hallmark Stars

I think most humans would agree things have been a little bit depressing in the world lately. I’m not going to get into politics in this post but let’s just say it has been an intense time for our country. And when I get stressed and need a break from all this madness I look to escapist entertainment and my favorite escapism is on the Hallmark Channel.

In fact, recently my friend Amber and I started a podcast all about the Hallmark movies called The Hallmarkies. We did our first episode reviewing the August films dubbed Summer Nights. We are still working out some kinks but I’m proud with how it turned out.

Anyway, in honor of the new podcast I thought it would be fun to talk about my favorite Hallmark movie stars. These are all actors who seem to relish being in a Hallmark movie and they have such great chemistry with their costars which makes them really shine.

(There are a lot of favorites like Candace Cameron Bure and Alicia Witt who are great but didn’t make my person favorites)

I have 6 men and 6 women on this list:

My Favorite Hallmark Actreses

6. Arielle Kebbel-

Arielle has only been in 2 Hallmark movies but she should really be in more- especially if she is going to star Andrew Walker. In both films (A Bride for Christmas and Bridal Wave), she is super likable and funny and has terrific chemistry with Walker.

5. Danica McKellar

Starring in at least 5 Hallmark movies Danica is perfect for these types of films. She is bright, happy and the girl next door. I particularly like A Crown for Christmas with its Cinderella-like story

4. Jen Lilley

Coming from soap opera background isn’t always a good fit for Hallmark but it worked out great for Jen Lilley. She was recently in Eat Play Love which I really enjoyed and I also love her in A Dash of Love. She’s very grounded and easy to relate to.

3. Autumn Reeser

Autumn is in a word- adorable. She is in some of my favorite Hallmark movies including Country Wedding, Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade and Valentine Ever After. She is charismatic and sincere even in silly plots like Midnight Masquerade. She’s just great.

2. Rachel Boston

Rachel is probably the prettiest of the actresses I am mentioning but she’s also luminous and great in her roles. I think I’ve liked all the Rachel Boston movies I’ve seen on Hallmark. Most recently I saw Ring by Spring which I thought was great.

1. Lacey Chabert

The former Mean Girl, Lacey Chabert, has become one of the Hallmark staples and I love her. Whether it’s her Cinderella movie, A Royal Christmas, or sparring off with Brennan Elliott in All of My Heart, she is a delight!

My Favorite Hallmark Actors

I do love Dale Midkiff from the Love Comes Softly series but I decided to cover that series at another time

6. Eric Mabius

I really liked Eric on Ugly Betty but he’s also great in the Hallmark movies How to Fall in Love and Signed, Sealed and Delivered. He can be nerdy and quiet while always a gentleman

5. Cameron Mathison

I felt like I almost had to put Cameron Mathison because he is in so many of these films. You can tell his background is in soap operas because he has no problem selling the most corny lines ever. He’s handsome and is a great Hallmark leading man

4. Brennan Elliott

Brennan has actually been in 2 of my favorite Hallmark movies. I love him in The Nanny Express and with Lacey Chabert in All of My Heart. He plays a great single Dad and you feel for him right away. They are even making a All of My Heart 2 this Fall!

3. Andrew Walker

If you want charming nobody is better than Andrew Walker. He has great chemistry with Arielle Kebbel and all of his leading ladies. I like him with Taylor Cole in Appetite for Love, which is a super fun valentines movie.

2. Jesse Metcalfe-

If I was just going on pure handsomeness than I would pick Jesse Metcalfe as my favorite Hallmark man. He is super charismatic and pretty as a country boy in the Chesapeake Shores series and A Country Wedding with Autumn Reeser. Plus, he can sing and looks great in a cowboy hat. Win, win.

1. Paul Campbell-

Speaking of charming the current king of Hallmark movies is the charm machine Paul Campbell. He is handsome but in a very accesible way. He feels like someone you could actually meet and fall in love with, which is what makes him work in these movies. Hallmark movies are all about showcasing the women and he does that for his co-stars. He’s just great!

 

So there you have it! My favorite Hallmark leading men and women. Who are your favorites and are you looking forward to the Christmas Hallmark season? Let me know in the comments!