Here's a checklist of all the Hallmark original romance movies from 2021 along with my comments on those I've seen.
Special movies of note are marked Favorite, Good, Okay, and BAD.
✓ Taking a Shot at Love (Winterfest • Alexa PenaVega and Luke Macfarlane • January 2, 2021)
Oh noes! Luke Macfarlane is a hockey player with an injury! Oh noes! Alexa PenaVega is a ballet teacher with diminishing students and rising rent. Lucky for everybody, the ballet teacher is also an expert at helping athletes recovering from injury... but she hates it. HATES IT! But when you need money, you do what you gotta do. And so now she's training him. I hope they don't fall in love! This is a mediocre effort to start out the year because there's just not much there. Thin story. Even thinner chemistry. Oh well. At least it wasn't yet another "snowed-in-at-the-lodge-that's-going-to-be-closed" movies.
✓ Good A New Year's Resolution (Winterfest • Aimee Teegarden and Michael Rady • January 9, 2021)
I'm just going to say it... some actors can salvage a terrible movie and make it bearable to watch. Historically, Michael Rady is not one of those actors. But when he has a good story to work with? A good cast to play off of? He's one of my favorite Hallmark actors. This time he gets both. Aimee Teegarden is adorably sweet and the plot for A New Year's Resolution perfectly plays to his strengths. She's a television producer who keeps missing out in life, so she decides to say "yes" to every social invitation she receives for a month. While at a party she explains this to a marketing guy and likes him enough to slip her number into his pocket. This is something that happens a lot in Real Life, but I can't remember seeing it in a Hallmark movie (can't have the ladies being too forward!). From there on out it's a fairly original, funny, and realistic story (for Hallmark), which was a pleasant surprise. Kinda a missed opportunity to not have this be the first movie of the year.
✓ Two for the Win (Winterfest • Charlotte Sullivan and Trevor Donovan • January 16, 2021)
You've got to be kidding me. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Look two movies above this. Replace skating with skiing, hockey with downhill, and Luke Macfarlane with Trevor Donovan. That's pretty much what this movie is. Competetive downhill skier has an injury. He recovers physically, but is having trouble mentally. He goes back home where he ends up getting trained by his old flame. It's like Hallmark isn't even trying to have unique stories. Now they're even copying movies within the same year! Or, in this case, within the same month. Lazy and sad.
✓ Favorite A Winter Getaway (Winterfest • Nazneen Contractor and Brooks Darnell • January 23, 2021)
It's not as if the whole "mistaken for a billionaire" trope hasn't been done before... but it doesn't usually happen with this kind of charm. All too often the "regular guy" who gets thrust into a world with a price tag way above his comfort zone plays it as if he's stupid. Like he couldn't possibly understand how "rich people stuff" works. And, in the beginning, I was afraid that was going to be the case (I mean, how long can you play with an airline seat before it becomes idiotic?)... but Brooks Darnell is fantastic. He's not stupid... he's just amazed by it all. And it's actually fun to watch. Combine that with his effortless chemistry with Nazneen Contractor, and this one was a treat. But anyway... she works for a personal concierge company for the rich and famous, and Brooks Darnell has been gifted an all-expenses paid skiing vacation to Banff under her care. She is puzzled because all the luxurious foods and experiences are lost on him... he'd rather have a cheeseburger than a six course meal. Ultimately this one ends exactly as you'd expect, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It looks like Hallmark shot this movie and Snowkissed (below) in the same trip to Banff save resources, which is pretty darn smart. But a weird to have back-to-back Banff. Thankfully they are different enough in story and tone that it's not too weird. And we get some really beautiful scenery. Alas, the music is BLASTING OVER THE DAMN DIALOGUE AND YOU CAN BARELY HEAR THEM SPEAKING DURING THEIR BIG SCENE AT THE END! HOLY CRAP! DOES ANYBODY AT HALLMARK OVERSEE THIS?!??
✓ Good Snowkissed (Winterfest • Jen Lilley and Chris McNally • January 30, 2021)
Jen Lilley, whom I've enjoyed in way too many Hallmark movies plays a neurotic New York City writer who has to go to Banff, Canada to land an interview with a lifestyle guru she admires. Chris McNally plays the charmingly smart-assed co-owner of the B&B where Jen Lilley and her photographer sidekick are staying. But he's also a wannabe tour guide who is trying to make new business for his B&B by offering a service that other B&B's don't have. Problem is, he's really bad at it, and it's up to Jen Lilley to fix him. At first glance, this is a solid start. But, in reality, Jen Liley plays the character way too erratic and irritating, and I fail to understand why she couldn't have been more of a match for Chris McNally instead of having to come across as borderline psychotic. Heaven only knows she's capable of it! But the worst offense is that you have to believe that all four characters fall madly in love with each other when they barely know each other after three days. Jen Lilley does a 180° so outrageous that you are left seriously questioning her mental stability. And then there's the photography stupidity that Hallmark propogates over and over and over again. Jen Lilley's photographer friend character (that absolutely nobody bothered to make even remotely realistic) is a heinous joke. She's taking scenic photos and selfies with a telephoto zoom that's fully extended, which makes her look like an idiot. This (along with people drinking out of cups that have nothing in them) is a huge pet peeve of mine. JUST LOOK THROUGH THE DAMN CAMERA AND YOU'LL SEE THAT YOU'VE TOTALLY SCREWED UP! IS IT REALLY THAT HARD?!? What saves this from being merely "okay" to actually being "good" boils down to Chris McNally totally nailing his character... and the gorgeous Banff scenery. It's more than a little sad that they're wasted in what could have been something great, but that's the Hallmark crapshoot we always seem to endure.
✓ Beverly Hills Wedding (Love Ever After • Brooke D'Orsay and Brendan Penny • February 6, 2021)
Newly engaged couple on a budget turns to the bride's wedding photographer sister (and newly-minted maid of honor) for the planning. On a lark, she enters them in a contest for a fully-paid wedding in Beverly Hills... and wins it! Problem is that the photographer's ex-boyfriend is the groom's brother (and best man) which means they're going to be spending time together. This is going to be awkward because he ditched her in their small Oregon town in order to pursue his dreams in Seattle! Until it isn't awkward. At which time she realizes that the wedding she's planning for her sister isn't actually for her sister at all. Shocker, I know. This is a perfectly serviceable movie with a good cast and decent story. But that's about all it is... aside from the Beverly Hills location shoot and the fact that the wedding planner character has a husband... coming from notoriously homophobic Hallmark who shoots everything in Canada, this is kinda a big deal.
✓ Good Playing Cupid (Love Ever After • Laura Vandervoort and Nicholas Gonzalez • February 13, 2021)
A teacher has her students create businesses to raise money for their school. One of the students decides to create a matchmaking business and match up her fellow students for Valentine's Day. But the most inspired match may be between the teacher and her divorced dad! This movie started out really good... but then didn't seem to know where to go with the story. Still, it's something new and different and has some clever moments. Most importantly, the teen angst was nonexistent, as there was no "I HATE YOU, DAD!" moment that I was 100% expecting. It's a crutch that has been used so many times in so many movies. That counts for something. As does a steamy tortilla-making kitchen scene and a song by Marvin Gaye!
✓ Good Mix Up in the Mediterranean (Love Ever After • Jessica Lowndes and Jeremy Jordan • February 20, 2021)
Wow. Hallmark filmed this one in actual Malta. Not Canada pretending to be Malta... but MALTA, Malta. Real Valletta and everything! What I don't understand is how Jessica Lowndes gets top billing over Jeremy Jordan when he's playing his own gay twin brother! What's funny is that they're using all the old body-double tricks and split-screen camera illusions to make it work... not CGI. Even more interesting is that Callum Blue was tapped to play the gay brother's husband. I loved him in Dead Like Me and haven't seen him forever. But anyway... a deli cook in Alaska gets convinced by his twin chef brother to go to Malta and watch him compete in an international culinary competition. Alas, the chef brother throws his back out and cook brother decides to impersonate him for registration. What he doesn't know is that contestants are given a permanent wrist-band for the duration, so now he has to compete in his brother's place. So now he has to not only pretend to be a chef, he has to also pretend he's gay... which is darn inconvenient when he starts falling in love with the event coordinator. Jeremy Jordan totally makes this work, and really should have gotten top billing.
✓ It Was Always You (Love Ever After • Tyler Hynes and Erin Krakow • February 27, 2021)
I gotta say... Tyler Hynes is the best thing about this movie, using his trademark wit to sell his character even if the story doesn't. That comes as a huge surprise given how big a fan I am of Erin Krakow. In this mediocre effort she is getting married, but when her fiancé can't make it home for the wedding planning... and the fiancé's brother Tyler Hynes can... well, you get the picture. And that's it. There's nothing more to this movie than that.
✓ Fit for a Prince (Love Ever After • Natalie Hall and Jonathan Keltz • March 6, 2021)
Thanks to A Winter Princess I would watch any movie Natalie Hall would care to make. This time she's not the princess falling for a commoner, but a commoner falling for a prince. As the true genius behind a famous fashion designer, Natalie Hall is tasked with dressing a royal family for an important party while visiting Philadelphia. But evil people and bad luck abound, making her life miserable from every direction. Having the prince pursue her just adds to her complications. Unfortunately, the ridiculousness of this movie made it really tough to invest in. The story and situations are absurd, and the only thing worth watching was Natalie Hall.
✓ Chasing Waterfalls (Spring Fling • Cindy Busby and Christopher Russell • March 20, 2021)
For the love of God, why can't Hallmark hire a photographer to review their script and consult on-set for a few days? They don't even have to break the bank with a professional. A hobbyist who would do it for free food would be fine. Because the absolute insanity in every movie featuring a "photographer" drives me insane. In this one, a woman has to set out to a major tourist attraction lodge in order to photograph a waterfall which has never been photographed before (right). I could forgive this ridiculousness if she at least acted like she actually knows how to take a photo. Waterfall photography is all about shutter speed... where you slow things down to get that pretty white water spray... but Cindy Busby does none of that. She has the wrong lens and snaps away like she's shooting a plate of fries. PLUS, GET THIS, SHE'S A WOMAN WHO CAN'T READ A MAP AND GETS LOST ON WELL-MARK TRAILS! Nothing like sexist tropes to build your movie upon. But anyway... she needs a guide to show her where the mythical waterfalls are, and enlists a divorced dad and his lovesick daughter to help. While not awful, it was predictably basic in every way (except Christopher Russell singing?). Even if the photography angle wasn't stupid.
✓ Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Spring Fling • Italia Ricci and Ryan Paevey • March 27, 2021)
I actually thought I'd like this one when it started because it felt like it was being semi-serious about relationship therapy instead of being a cheesy, dopy embarrassment looking for a story. But it had two major problems... it had a "YOU BETRAYED ME!" moment that was more absurd than usual AND came from the journalist-writing-a-story trope that's been beaten into the ground... and, even worse, it was heinously boring with minimal chemistry. It felt like they were trying to do something new with the same old material, but it ultimately ended up being so lazy, tired, and dull that it just didn't matter.
✓ One Perfect Wedding (Spring Fling • Taylor Cole and Jack Turner • April 4, 2021)
After One Winter Weekend and One Winter Proposal, I expected that we'd be in for One Winter Wedding. I was wrong. Instead we get this installment (which easily could have been One Winter Wedding because it's at the same resort in the winter like the last two). Which begs the question: Other than the All of My Heart series, which isn't terrible... is there any other Hallmark series that doesn't get consistently worse with each installment? This was a mess of a movie that didn't have any real story or plot. It's just wedding planning foibles from start to finish. If you like that kind of thing, this is your movie. I was dead-bored. And disappointed that the money, actors, and resources wasn't put into a much better movie.
✓ Good As Luck Would Have It (Spring Fling • JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Allen Leech • April 10, 2021)
When an American New Yorker is tasked with acquiring a castle in Ireland to raze for a new resort, she's immediately rebuffed by the town council because she's only just arrived and is not familiar with the town or its customs. Her solution? Join a local match-making festival! But in her quest for the castle, she may just end up with true love instead! What saves this well-tread story from monotony is that it was actually filmed in Ireland, providing a lush backdrop for the story to unfold against. In particular, a detour to Glendalough, one of my favorite places in the country. Otherwise? The story has been done before (and done better) but this film is not without its charms.
✓ Good Right In Front of Me (Spring Fling • Janel Parrish and Marco Grazzini • April 17, 2021)
The entire time I was watching this one I kept thinking "Just once I'd like to be surprised... taken completely off-guard... by one of these movies!" It, of course, didn't happen. It never does with Hallmark. They made a slight, half-hearted effort to misdirect, but it was a botched attempt and you never buy it for a second. Probably a good thing, because the two leads were great, and you don't go experimental when you have that. Anyway... wedding designer and amateur dress designer "Carly" goes on vacation where her college crush just happens to be attending a wedding. And of course everything goes wrong with the wedding, so she has to step in to save everything. There she meets a chef who's struggling under a domineering boss who won't let him cook his own way. Sparks fly, and soon she realizes that she's been chasing the wrong man. Then Hallmark happens. This film is a bit of a slow burn, but Janel Parrish and Marco Grazzini never let things get boring. This movie was good... the cast fantastic... I enjoyed it... but something was missing in the story to elevate it past the usual fare. Still, worth your valuable time!
✓ Hearts Down Under (AKA "Romance on the Menu" • Cindy Busby and Tim Ross • April 24, 2021)
A chef and restaurateur inherits a diner in a small town in Australia left to her by her aunt. So she flies Down Under so she can meet with a realtor and sell it except, oh no, it needs repairs and all the contractors are busy with other jobs! Fortunately the handsome cook knows his way around a hammer and will reluctantly perform repairs if she takes over cooking duties. Too bad that the employees don't want the diner to sell, and try sabotaging things! Also too bad that the chef and the cook totally clash and are on the way towards hating each other! But then something TOTALLY UNEXPECTED HAPPENS... they fall for each other! Awwwww... I am so in shock right now! The movie takes advantage of the Aussie location a little bit, but not enough to make this something so unique that it couldn't have been filmed someplace else. Oh well. Standard Hallmark romcom fare that doesn't suck but also doesn't stand out.
✓ Sweet Carolina (Summer Nights — Lacey Chabert and Tyler Hynes • May 15, 2021)
Boring. Mind-numbingly, unbelievably boring. Lacy Chabert inherits guardianship of her sister's kids after she dies in an accident. While taking care of them and adjusting to life back in her home town, Lacey Chabert runs into her high school boyfriend, Tyler Hynes. Boring, secondary romance ensues.
✓ You Had Me at Aloha (Summer Nights — Pascale Hutton and Kavan Smith • June 5, 2021)
A travel TV show is losing its host... which means Pascal Hutton makes a deal to go back to television hosting after an embarrassing incident caused her to quit in exchange for developing her own program. Too bad she has to do it with a guy who's "extreme travel" breaks all the rules and forces her to confront her past. Mildly amusing take on a tired old concept thanks to decent chemistry between leads... and some fantastic on-location shooting.
✓ Favorite The Baker's Son (Summer Nights — Eloise Mumford and Brant Daugherty • June 12, 2021)
Okay. This one was cute. The fictional San Juans island town of Windward, Washington is suffering a tourist drought and the local economy has taken a turn for the worse. But all that changes when bread baker Brant Daugherty falls in love with a visiting dancer which causes his bread to become incredible. This causes a tourist rush to visit his bakery, and the town just might be saved. But when his romance falls apart, will the island's newfound renaissance be halted by bad bread? Or will the baker's best friend Eloise Mumford be the key to a solution? The chemistry between the leads is aces, and the cinematography of the water-side town quickly becomes a character all its own. By slowing down and trying to go for realism over hokey romance, this movie was a welcome addition to Hallmark Summer Nights.
✓ Her Pen Pal (Summer Nights — Mallory Jansen and Joshua Sasse • June 19, 2021)
I became a massive, massive Joshua Sasse fan after the series No Tomorrow and went back to see what else he's done. Turns out... not much! He was in the series Galavant and Rogue. and a couple other things and that was it. This time around he's a French guy who struck up a pen-pal friendship with an American girl in school. They drifted apart until she ends up in France planning her friend's wedding and reconnect. Hallmark Ensues. Despite decent performances all the way around, this was a 100% missed opportunity. They actually filmed in in France and yet didn't really take advantage of it in any real way. Sure there were shots that were unmistakably Paris, but they were never really engrained into the story... or anything, really. If not for Sasse's French accent and an occasional landmark, this could have taken place anywhere. Talking about how good a pastry tastes does not France make, and it's hugely disappointing that they wasted a location budget on a story that just didn't care except in the most superficial ways.
✓ Sand Dollar Cove (Summer Nights — Chad Michael Murray and Aly Michalka • June 26, 2021)
Maybe it's because I've seen just about every Hallmark movie ever made that this one caused so many eye-rolls with its non-stop predictability... but sheesh. Not even Chad Michael Murray's easy charm could save this one from being a snooze. Aly Michalka is representing a real estate company that wants to build a big hotel resort right on the beach of Sand Dollar Cove. Alas, Chad Michael Murray doesn't want that because it would mean tearing down the damaged pier that his grandfather built. Or great-grandfather. Or something. This means that Aly Michalka has to try and sweet-talk him into changing his mind over her two week stay. But this is Hallmark, so you just know it's going to end up being the other way around. And of course a painfully obvious compromise is reached that you never see, because Hallmark won't kick a couple thousand in for an architectural rendering. It's just "We'll repair the pier and build the hotel around it!" and that's the end of it. You don't even get to see the frickin' drawing that Aly Michalka creates to show her boss what she had in mind. Pathetic. Even more laughable is that her company is paying her to sticking around for two years to oversee construction so she can shack up with Chad Michael Murray. WTF? A real estate broker is suddenly a contraction supervisor? An architect? An interior designer? What? Look, I'm not asking for a lot, but just a tiny amount of actual logic would be nice.
✓ Crashing Through the Snow (Christmas in July — Amy Acker and Warren Christie • July 10, 2021)
Amy Acker has been invited by her ex-husband and his girlfriend to her family's Estate in Aspen so that she doesn't have to be away from her daughters on Christmas. Despite several setbacks in a friendly mom-slash-girlfriend-rivalry, Amy Acker manages to come out on top thanks to the girlfriend's handsome brother flying in from Tokyo to open a restaurant. Ten buckets of stupid and insufferable moments of whiny kids ensue. The movie was annoying from the start, but once Amy Acker tells her ex-husband that she wants to let their eldest daughter get her ears pierced... and he decides it's a great idea for his girlfriend to be the one to take the daughter to get it done WITHOUT TELLING AMY ACKER... you kinda have to wonder exactly how frickin' stupid he is. And how frickin' stupid the girlfriend is that she actually goes ahead and does it without thinking that it was something that a mom-and-daughter might want to do together. They could have at least made her evil so that it makes sense, but they didn't even bother to do that much. It's this kind of idiocy (and groan-inducing Amy Acker clumsiness driving the plot) that makes me believe Hallmark knew this film was a stinker, but thought that nobody would notice if they got Amy Acker to star and aired it in July where there's no other sane movies to compare it to. I noticed.
✓ Love, For Real (Summer Nights — Chloe Bridges and Scott Michael Foster • July 31, 2021)
Despite the Hawaiian filming location, this was a fairly boring take on the whole romance reality dating show plot (My One And Only from 2019 did it much better). Best friends get cast to compete for the "King of Hearts" but one of them has no interest in romance... just promoting her fashion line on television... at least until a producer on the show ends up catching her eye. Basic, predictable, and chemistry-free, this film had zero surprises, no charm, and was a waste of time and money for everybody involved.
✓ The 27-Hour Day (Summer Nights — Autumn Reeser and Andrew Walker • August 7, 2021)
Autumn Reeser is a lifestyle efficiency guru for the successful podcast The 27 Hour Day and needs a break. So she escapes to a remote retreat where she attempts to unwind... but has a tough time slowing down. UNTIL ANDREW WALKER SHOWS UP! I was really expecting to love this movie a lot more than I did since Autumn Reeser and Andrew Walker are two of my favorite Hallmark players. And I liked that they actually tried to do something different. But when you're more excited to see Andrew Walker's baby pig than anything else in the movie, that kinda tells you everything you need to know.
✓ Sealed with a Kiss: Wedding March 6 (Summer Nights — Jack Wagner and Josie Bissett • August 14, 2021)
Good Lord. More of the series THAT WILL NOT DIE! How? How is this still going? It was awful from the start and just keeps getting more awful and pointless with each new installment. I can't stand these characters. I can't stand these stories. I can't stand these movies. My only hope is that now that they are finally married (albeit with all the clichéd, expected drama), Hallmark will stop funding future films in this franchise and invest in something I actually want to see (they could have financed another movie with the budget of the wedding alone).
✓ A Little Daytime Drama (Summer Nights — Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevy • August 21, 2021)
Eh. I admit that part of the reason I was into this was because of my undying love of Jen Lilley. Otherwise? A complete lack of surprises made this slip into the tedious and the mundane. Jen Lilley is a writer on a soap opera whose show is about to be canceled due to plummeting ratings. But then the showrunner (Linda Dano?!?) has the idea of bringing back a popular character played by Ryan Paevy who was killed off when he decided to do theater instead of daytime television. BUT OH NOES! Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevy used to date when they were working together on the show! I WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN? It's not that I expected to be shocked that the leads ended up together, but I did hope there would be something new or surprising along the way. Nope. Pain-by-numbers from start to finish. But... Jen Lilley.
✓ Okay Sweet Pecan Summer (Summer Nights — Christine Ko and Wes Brown • August 28, 2021)
I'm going to be honest here... the reason I was looking forward to this one was having Lauren Tom on the bill. Best-known for The Joy Luck Club and as "Ross's Girlfriend Julie on Friends." Alas, she's a secondary character on this flick, but at least she's here. Wes Brown can deliver "Basic White Boyfriend" in his sleep and is good as always, so I was more interested in Christine Ko (who was excellent in the short-lived Joel McHale vehicle The Great Indoors). Turns out she does good Hallmark, so the only thing left was the story. Which is good but not great. Lauren Tom asks her niece Christine Ko to help her sell the beloved family pecan farm. And the real estate agent? Oh... just Christine Ko's ex-boyfriend. Hallmark happens. One of these days we may get an Asian cast to run with one of these films, in the meanwhile Asian representation is limited to interchangeable parts in the same old stories like this. Pity that Hallmark just doesn't get it. At all. Something fresh would sure be appreciated.
✓ Journey of My Heart (AKA Love on the Wings of Eagles —Summer Nights — Rhiannon Fish and Darien Martin • September 4, 2021)
An ornithologist needs a guide to take her to a secret location in Alaska to do a follow-up study on bald eagles. The guide naturally ends up being some handsome dude with unexpected depths who puts up with her idiotic shenanigans. Hallmark happens. This one has beautiful locations and stunning shots of eagles, but precious little else to offer. I was largely bored and annoyed by it all. Especially when it came to the artificial drama revolving around the secret location being revealed. Completely unnecessary in every way. But Hallmark movies seem to thrive on YOU BETRAYED ME! dumbassery, and this played right into it all.
✓ Roadhouse Romance (Fall Harvest — Lauren Alaina and Tyler Hynes • September 11, 2021)
"AUNT WILLA! YOU CAN'T SERVE STORE-BOUGHT SAUCE AT THE MUSIC FESTIVAL, AND YOU KNOW IT!" When a woman returns home after two years in the military, she is devastated to find that the sauce at grandpappy's restaurant has been changed... and that her boyfriend is dating somebody else. Because it's totally realistic that a couple wouldn't communicate for two years. I could probably forgive the huge gaps in logic if the story and chemistry was worth it... but it ain't. More of a promotional effort for Lauren Alaina's singing than anything else, this was a slog from start to finish (despite Tyler Hynes and his easy charm pushing the movie forward every step of the way). But the WORST offense? At the end of the movie Lauren Alaina sings a song her grandpappy wrote. AND IT'S WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL... THE SONG THAT WAS MADE FAMOUS IN THE MOVIE NOTTING HILL! WHAT THE HECK? DID HALLMARK THINK WE WOULDN'T NOTICE? Might have wanted to pick a more obscure song so it's not quite so obvious.
✓ Raise a Glass to Love (Fall Harvest — Laura Osnes and Juan Pablo Di Pace • September 18, 2021)
Somebody saw the excellent documentary Som and thought "I could build a Hallmark movie around this! And so they did. Laura Osnes has failed the Annual Master Sommelier exam twice, which she needs to become a som at her boyfriend's restaurant. On a trip back to her grandparent's vineyards for an anniversary party, she's blindsided by the new manager and master winemaker her grandparents hired to run the place. In-between studying for her upcoming Master Sommelier exam, she learns that great wines aren't just reserved for fancy restaurants and prestigious awards... they are made great by the passion of the people who make them. Along the way she discovers a passion of her own! Predictability ensues.
✓ Taking the Reins (Fall Harvest — Nikki DeLoach and Scott Porter • September 25, 2021)
Nikki DeLoach is a writer looking for inspiration for her next article... and gets it when her parents host a horse-riding competition. So she flies back home to write it. As a part of the tradition, the family who hosts has to enter somebody in the contest, which ends up being her dad, Corbin Bernsen. Much to her shock and horror, her dad hired her ex-husband to train him. And of course Corbin Bernsen gets injured so she has to ride. And of course her and her ex-husband end up falling in love again. It's all incredibly predictable with zero surprises... which wouldn't be a bad thing if any of it were made interesting. Alas it's mind-numbingly dull.
✓ Good Love Strikes Twice (Fall Harvest — Katie Findlay and Wyatt Nash • October 2, 2021)
A woman in a troubled marriage hits her head and ends up thrown back in time after wishing for a life do-over. Using knowledge of her future, she helps her not-yet-husband save a local library building so she can not feel guilty about living a life without him in it. And of course she sees him in a different light and manages to change everybody's future for the better. Including her own. What's fascinating about this movie is that they didn't go the whole "it was just a dream" route that you'd expect. They totally went all Back to the Future on us, which was a pleasant surprise. Also setting the movie apart? The cast is universally good.
✓ South Beach Love (Fall Harvest — Taylor Cole and William Levy • October 9, 2021)
Yet another restaurant wars movie... this time based around ex-lovers (and chefs) and the respective "Battle of the Quinceanera's" they're competing in for a magazine's coverage of their respective nieces parties. But the underlying drama between their two families may get in the way of the rekindling of the romance that's been building. Fortunately reconciliation is just a disaster away.
✓ Advice to Love By (Fall Harvest — Erinn Westbrook and Brooks Darnell • October 16, 2021)
Sigh. Another love expert book author movie. This time she's into the "science of love" and believes that the initial attraction of "love at first sight" can't build a lasting relationship. Groundbreaking. Then there's her opposite, a guy writing as "Doctor Lovestruck" who believes that love isn't a science and relies on heat and feeling. A basic plot of the two writing about each other for their book/article ensues. Despite having a really good cast, this movie was pretty bad. You never buy that they are falling in love. Not for a minute. It's like nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing... BLAM! They're together! The End! It would be nice to see Erinn Westbrook and Brooks Darnell in a much better movie than this.
✓ You, Me, & The Christmas Trees (Countdown to Christmas — Danica McKellar and Benjamin Ayres • October 22, 2021)
It's the week before Christmas, and the owner of a fourth-generation, 100 year-old Christmas tree farm is in dire straights. His trees are dying just days after being cut! Fortunately the so-called "Christmas Tree Whisperer" is available to come take a look so she can get out of family holiday stuff. Her goal? To solve the mystery of the dying trees by Christmas! This story is so idiotic as to be offensive. What can she possibly do in a week? Who waits so long to get a tree? A guy with a dead tree says he will wait no longer than Christmas Eve to get a tree that won't die for Christmas? The leads give their all to the story, and Danica McKellar is adorable as ever, but this clunker of a story couldn't be saved. The irony of the Balsam Hill fake tree ads at the commercial breaks was amusing though.
✓ Good Boyfriends of Christmas Past (Countdown to Christmas — Catherine Haena Kim and Raymond Ablack • October 23, 2021)
I'm just going to get this out there... Raymond Ablack is too dang good-looking for it to be believable that Haena Kim hadn't fallen in love with him for the entirety of their long best-friendship. Anyway... a woman deep into her advertising job is visited by boyfriends from her past in her dreams at night to point out the painfully obvious point that she has commitment issues. They beat you over the head with her mom leaving her and her dad on Christmas just to let you know HEY, SHE HAS ABANDONMENT ISSUES, so... yeah. Fortunately, adorable Haena Kim and the impossibly handsome Raymond Ablack have the charm to drag you through this one, which isn't half-bad (if, for no other reason, that it's not the same old thing).
✓ Favorite The Santa Stakeout (Countdown to Christmas — Tamera Mowry-Housley and Paul Campbell • October 24, 2021)
No Hallmark leading man captures the "everyman" better than Paul Campbell. He effortlessly falls into these kinds of roles, and I was looking forward to this film the minute I heard it was happening because of it. The fact that we get Joey Pants starring as well is just a bonus! Anyway... a pair of police detectives get paired up to investigate a string of art robberies. Posing as newlyweds is an invitation for Christmas hijinks to ensue when their suspect is... SANTA?!? I really, really appreciated that we got a story that at least attempted to be original and funny, and was thrilled that they actually got a decent cast to bring it to life. The fact that I didn't see the ending coming from miles away was just a bonus.
✓ Okay Christmas in Harmony (Countdown to Christmas — Ashleigh Murray and Luke James • October 29, 2021)
Woman heads back home after she's downsized out of her record company job after a merger. While there she accidentally auditions for the church choir holiday program by an ex-boyfriend which derails her life. It sounds good on paper, but kinda falls flat because the characters go through these weird shifts from scene to scene which makes them seem like they're bonkers. Fortunately Loretta Devine (and some truly good gospel music) is here to add some energy back into the production.
✓ Coyote Creek Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Janel Parrish and Ryan Paevey • October 30, 2021)
So vanilla. So boring. So tacky. So predictable. So awful. It's like they didn't even try. And then there's the annoying kid that keeps popping up with absurd dialogue. — Ryan Paevey and his kid are scouting a family inn to purchase in the town of Coyote Creek. The owners want to sell, but their daughter doesn't know that yet, so he has to be coy as to why he's staying at the inn. As he grows to appreciate the charm of the place, he grows to bristle at the idea that his brother wants to raze it to the ground and build a luxury resort. Because of course he does. Anything else would mean that Hallmark would have to put some actual effort into coming up with something outside of this painfully tired plot device they've used a million times before. This is one of those movies that makes me wonder why I even bother any more.
✓ Christmas Sail (Countdown to Christmas — Katee Sackhoff and Patrick Sabongui • October 31, 2021)
This one kind of lost me before it really got started, but I hung in there because I'm a major Katee Sackhoff fan. This time she's a single mom who returns to her dad's house after he has an accident. All she wants is to create a magical Christmas for her daughter, but that's difficult when her dad is all bah humbug. This is made even worse when she finds out that her dad is having to sell his sailboat and his house. From there Christmas magic actually does ensue... in part thanks to a childhood friend. Ultimately this movie is just painfully mediocre, relying more on charm than a story you can get invested in. There is a nice Christmas sailboat parade at the end though (even if I have no clue how that slideshow presentation on the sail at the end would even work... where is that projector?!?).
✓ Okay Gingerbread Miracle (Countdown to Christmas — Lini Evans and Jon-Michael Ecker • November 5, 2021)
This was a painfully basic story... elevated by the performances, which were universally good. A man decides to sell his panadería (Mexican bakery) because his heart isn't into it after his wife dies. To help him, he enlists a former employee and local lawyer. But when his nephew (who he and his wife raised after a tragedy took his parents) finds out that the bakery is being sold, he heads home for one last round of their famous Christmas gingerbread... and to offer his own legal services to his uncle for the sale. As the holiday season goes onward, old feelings are rekindled... and a romantic rival wanting to buy the panadería enters the equation. There are zero surprises here, but you really don't mind when the quality is as good as this is.
✓ Good Next Stop, Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Lyndsy Fonseca and Chandler Massey • November 6, 2021)
It's a time travel movie! When done well, they can be a fresh take on the same old Christmas fare. And this time they kinda nailed it. Doesn't hurt that they got Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson (both from Back to the Future) to tag along for the story. Anyway... woman gets a magical train ticket that takes her back in time ten years. Before she can return home to the present, she has to figure out what went wrong in her life that she's supposed to fix. Was it not marrying her boyfriend? Was it her mom and dad's marriage falling apart? Or was it something else entirely? Not much of a shock what it turns out to be, but they handled it well and wrapped things up nicely. This became a Hallmark classic on first airing.
✓ A Christmas Treasure (Countdown to Christmas — Jordin Sparks and Michael Xavier • November 7, 2021)
The opening scene is so ridiculous as to defy belief. There's a 50,000th Christmas Tree sold, and the people who bought it get $5,000 and a free tree! BUT THEY ARE PAID WITH A GIANT CHECK THAT HAS THEIR NAME ON IT?!? How did the tree farm guy know their names? How did he know they would be the 50,000th customer? It's just so nuts! Anyway... small-town newspaper writer is leaving for New York City. But before she goes there's a 100 year time capsule ceremony.
✓ Open by Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Alison Sweeney and Brennan Elliott • November 12, 2021)
A woman heads home during the holidays only to find out that her parents are selling their home. They convince her to hang around through Christmas to help pack and have one more Christmas at her childhood home. While there, she's going through her old stuff and finds a card from a secret admirer back in high school. Knowing what the card would have meant to a dweeb like her back in her awkward years, she's determined to track the guy down... which ain't going to be easy. And then there's her parents' realtor who might throw a monkey-wrench in the works. OR WILL HE?!? This one was pretty basic... and her best friend's love story was actually more compelling... but it wasn't tragically bad, so no harm, no foul.
✓ My Christmas Family Tree (Countdown to Christmas — Aimee Teegarden and Andrew Walker • November 13, 2021)
I don't generally post spoilers in these things, but I can't really discuss what went horrible wrong with this mess without it... so you've been warned. Woman who helps place kids in foster care (because she was in foster care herself) takes a DNA test and finds out that she has a father match! Just in time for the holidays! She connects with dad and is invited to Christmas with his family... and a family friend will pick her up and drive her there. After bonding with the family... and the family friend who drove her... she gets a notice that there was a mistake and she's not really the daughter. Now, had Hallmark actually had the guts to stick with that, I would have been impressed. But of course they didn't. The mistake was a mistake all along! On top of literally nothing happening the whole film, the huge gaps in logic (or what passes for logic) make this a terrible waste of two Hallmark staples. The leads fall in love instantly just because they happened to be the only two single people, and it's pretty awful. They can't all be winners, but this one really tested my patience.
✓ A Holiday in Harlem (Countdown to Christmas — Olivia Washington and Will Adams • November 14, 2021)
A movie about Harlem was filmed in... not Harlem. Actually it was Connecticut (I looked). A globetrotting woman grows concerned when her grandmother refuses her annual Christmas gift of... a box of fruit. But then she lets it slip that she's in New York when she calls to check in, and is guilted into heading home to Harlem. While visiting, she causes grandma to hurt her leg, so she volunteers to help out with the Christmas Jamboree that grandma runs. And of course she ends up paired with a handsome handyman who helps her fall in love with Christmas... Harlem... and himself! What makes this one work is the cast, which is pretty darn good from start to finish (especially grandma, played by Tina Lifford, who is Violet on Queen Sugar). This is about as straightforward as Hallmark gets, but it's not terrible by any means. It's feel-good filler for the 2021 movie season.
✓ Nantucket Noel (Countdown to Christmas — Sarah Power and Trevor Donovan • November 19, 2021)
Blergh. As if having the movie revolve around an annoying kid, they gave her the name "Wink" AND THEY WON'T STOP SAYING IT! I found every aspect of this unsurprising, boring, redundant, predictable mess to be annoying though, so it was all just more of the same. Guy picks up his daughter and heads to Nantucket to meet up with his dad... WHO IS BUYING UP ALL THE WHARF SHOPS SO HE CAN TEAR THEM DOWN AND REBUILD SOMETHING BETTER! AND GET OUT BY CHRISTMAS!!! BAH-HUMBUG!! There he meets up with a kindly toy shop owner (GOOD LORD, DID THEY JUST PUT EVERY OTHER CLICHÉD HALLMARK MOVIE IN A BLENDER AND THIS WAS WHAT CAME OUT?). And even though Trevor Donovan attempts to stay neutral in the battle, he starts falling for the toy shop owner (as does Wink. WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK! WINK!) and decides to try and come up with a way to SAVE THE TOY SHOP! Except the wharf is falling apart, so he can't. Fortunately she eventually gets over herself and finds a new option. Or something. To be honest, I stopped paying attention because I was so bored. Maybe space aliens showed up. I dunno. As if all that wasn't enough? This was most definitely not filmed in Nantucket.
✓ A Christmas Together with You (Countdown to Christmas — Laura Vandervoort and Niall Matter • November 20, 2021)
You have to wonder if there's a maximum number of awkward moments that can be shoved in a romance movie before it collapses under the weight of them all. This one surely comes close. A woman decides to help a man who's been like a father to her find his lost love when he happens across a photo of her in an old book. They end up in a town where they stay at an inn owned by Niall Matter. In an effort to put some meat on the story, there's layer after layer of manufactured drama in the form of cringe-worthy awkwardness that's a real slog to get through. One would hope that they could have been more clever than this when getting Harry Lennox to guest-star, but it is what it is. Everybody involved deserved a better movie than this... including the audience. By the time we got to Niall Matter perfectly timing a meteor shower viewing within a 3-minute window, I had checked out completely. Which means their attempt at wrapping everything up in a nice bow fell flat... especially when it abruptly cuts out before the logistics of everybody living hours apart from each other comes into play.
✓ Okay A Kiss Before Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Teri Hatcher and James Denton • November 21, 2021)
It's a Desperate Housewives reunion! For what it is, this movie is worth a watch. I mean, it IS the whole "I wish I'd have made better decisions so I could be rich!" trope where James Denton learns that money isn't everything and happiness isn't necessarily determined by what car you drive and how big your office is... but the chemistry and the way everything plays out makes it stand above. I mean, Teri Hatcher is in it, and the pivotal moment at the end needed the talent that her and Denton could provide in order to work. I just wish that they had used the talent here for something unique.
✓ Okay The Nine Kittens of Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Kimberly Sustad and Brandon Routh • November 25, 2021)
Be careful what you wish for. I'm like everybody else in that I like the idea of a sequel so you can see what happens after the first movie ends with characters you enjoyed. That was especially true for The Nine Lives of Christmas which has been one of my favorite Hallmark films since it debuted in 2014. And while the result is okay... it's far from great. Kimberly Sustad has graduated from veterinary school and is now living in Florida as a vet... WHICH SHE NEVER LETS YOU FORGET! She says "I'm a vet" or "HELLO, I'M A VET!!! at least a half-dozen times. Alas, she's not with Brandon Routh any more, as she's dating her clinic co-owner. But that relationship is dismissed pretty quickly after she heads home for Christmas and boyfriend doesn't come. Fortunately for her, Brandon Routh is still single... and in possession of nine kittens that were abandoned at the fire station. Together they find the kittens their forever homes and fall for each other... again. Ultimately this is a bland, paint-by-numbers Hallmark movie that tries to capitalize on the popularity of the first film. But it doesn't live up to the original and Ambrose the Cat it scarce. Oh well. Maybe they'll get the sequel right if they do a third one.
✓ Christmas CEO (Countdown to Christmas — Marisol Nichols and Paul Greene • November 26, 2021)
A small toy company owner gets the opportunity of a lifetime when the CEO of a much larger toy company is retiring and wants her to merge the companies and become the new CEO. But there's a problem... the guy she started her company with has to sign off on the merger, and he wants nothing to do with it. But if his former partner will volunteer with the Christmas toy event he's involved in, he'll relent and sign the contract. As they spend time together on the event, she learns that bigger isn't necessarily better, and toys without heart aren't the best toys to have. So will she go through with the merger after all? If you really can't figure that out, you can burn 90 minutes of your life and find out by watching this movie... though it's kinda a snooze with very little payoff.
✓ Good An Unexpected Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Bethany Joy Lenz and Tyler Hynes • November 26, 2021)
Okay, I've seen Tyler Hynes in a dozen of these things... maybe more... and I completely didn't recognize him in this role. He looks ten years younger with short hair and without a beard! The concept for this one is cuter than the implementation, but I still enjoyed it. Due to a mix-up at the train station, a campaign writer is thrown together with his ex-girlfriend... and his family doesn't know that they broke up two months ago. In exchange for a favor, she agrees to play along as his girlfriend with the family so as not to spoil everybody's Christmas. Gee. I hope they don't fall in love again! There's a "casual effortlessness" that carries through this movie in a way that was a welcome change from the desperate undertone of so many Hallmark films. I think that can be dropped squarely on Bethany Joy Lenz and Tyler Hynes's doorstep, as they just seem to melt away in their roles as the story unfolds. They've done enough Hallmark to know that they don't need oversell the part. This allowed me to unexpectedly enjoy this one. In lesser hands, I probably wouldn't have.
✓ Good Making Spirits Bright (Countdown to Christmas — Taylor Cole and Carlo Marks • November 27, 2021)
Ah... the ol' family rivalry gambit! Wouldn't be Hallmark if we didn't have at least one of these movies each year. The difference being that this one is actually pretty well done. The casting is good... it's light on the cheese... and everything builds to an ending instead of having everything come out of nowhere. This time we have two rival Christmas decorating families trying to win a $50,000 decorating contract. They used to be the best of friends, of course, but differences drove them apart, of course, and now they have to come together and put aside the differences to win this year's competition. Helping them along is the fact that a son of one family and a daughter of the other family are falling for each other. OF COURSE!
✓ Okay Christmas at Castle Hart (Countdown to Christmas — Lacey Chabert and Stuart Townsend • November 27, 2021)
Every year Hallmark puts real money into one or two projects. This year it's this one... which had to cost some serious money. Not only is it shot on location in Ireland, they got Stuart Townsend to star with one of their most expensive actors (at least I'm guessing) Lacey Chabert. Unfortunately they didn't spend serious money on the script, which is really too bad. Two unemployed waitresses head to Ireland after being fired from a catering gig. They pass themselves off as "event planners" and happen across a guy who happens to be the Earl of Castle Hart. AND, SURPRISE, HE NEEDS AN EVENT PLANNER! It is brutally apparent that whomever wrote this has no idea what event planning entails. Most of the job is the vendors and suppliers you work with and the relationships you build for your business. The fact that they are in Ireland for the first time and have no clue where to go or who to contact RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS to plan an event is just ludicrous. Even with the Earl's help, it just makes no sense. Setting that aside, the movie is passable Hallmark fare. But alas... we get an impersonation game that takes over the movie and is as poorly predictable as you'd expect. Why is it in Hallmark films that the person being impersonated, WHOM IS APPARENTLY WELL-KNOWN IN HER INDUSTRY, never, ever has their photo on their website? The ending is one of those YOU BETRAYED ME! moments that is so very tired, and the resolution is poorly handled. But, hey... it's Ireland.
✓ A Christmas in Tahoe (Countdown to Christmas — Laura Osnes and Kyle Selig • November 28, 2021)
Kyle Selig is the guitar player in a band that's so famous that he gets mobbed wherever he goes. Except when the script for this awful movie doesn't want him to be recognized, then nobody knows who he is. At his niece's school play? Not recognized. Wanting to drop his name to get backstage at a show? Recognized. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It's so absurd as to be laughable. Anyway... Laura Osnes runs events at her family's inn. But her dream is to be an event manager as a bigger, more prestigious hotel. She gets a shot at it... but only if she delivers a great show for her family's Christmas Variety Show. But the huge act she booked had to cancel. OH NO! Except her ex-boyfriend who plays in one of the biggest bands in the world is in town! YAY! Except he's not on speaking terms with the rest of the band and can't help her. OH NO! But her ex-boyfriend promises to help her get some famous acts! YAY! Except it proves more difficult than they anticipated. OH NO! But her co-worker at the hotel is secretly Pat Monahan and can sing! YAY! Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Look, I can suspend belief enough to enjoy Hallmark movies... but there has to be a certain level of internal logic or it's just too stupid to be enjoyable. And that pretty much sums this one up.
✓ The Christmas Contest (Countdown to Christmas — Candace Cameron Bure and John Brotherton • November 28, 2021)
I'm assuming that The Queen of Hallmark Christmas gets her pick of Christmas movies. And while this one isn't bad, it isn't really geared towards her strengths (which is always the case, because Candace Cameron films tend to be hit-or-miss). This time she wants to help her mom win a Christmas contest to renovate a senior center. But, SURPRISE!, one of her adversaries is her sportsting star ex-boyfriend! OH NOES! As the teams are eliminated one-by-one, I found myself wishing that we got to see the OTHER contestants. Which, of course, we don't, because it's got to come down to the ex love-birds. Pity. The biker gang's Christmas carol contest entry for "Bikes for Tykes" was probably epic. If they would have cut 80% of the angst, this might have been a fun movie. But, alas... they actually doubled down with that groan-inducing ending.
✓ Favorite Eight Gifts of Hanukkah (Countdown to Christmas — Inbar Lavi and Jake Jake Epstein • December 3, 2021)
Well, dang. The best Christmas movie of 2021 might actually be... a Hanukkah movie?!? I guess that's what happens when you get ONE movie each year for Hanukkah... you can put all your ideas and talent into a single film. Unlike having to spread everything you got out over 40 Christmas movies. — An optometrist in Seattle has a half-dozen guys to date, but is caught completely off guard when somebody who knows her down to her soul starts leaving her a present on each night of Hanukkah. BUT WHO COULD IT BE? The answer is sublimely obvious, and the writers knew it would be, so they don't make you suffer through the entire movie by treating you like you're a moron who doesn't already know. A lesser movie would have done that, and there have been a lot of lesser movies playing on this concept. But not only is the writing good, the cast is flawless. This is not just one of my favorite Hallmark movies of 2021, but one of my favorite Hallmark movies period.
✓ A Very Merry Bridesmaid (Countdown to Christmas — Emily Osment and Casey Deidrick • December 4, 2021)
A woman who had dreams to travel the world never ended up going much of anywhere out of worry for her father's health. But when her childhood crush (literally the boy next door) arrives from his world travels for her brother's wedding... sparks fly. Alas the wedding is anything but smooth. The wedding dress is lost in transit... THE BRIDE WANTS THE WEDDING SHE ALWAYS DREAMED OF... and the groom secretly bought his bride-to-be's family home and wants to move the wedding there. Overall this was a fairly ordinary and bland offering, but Casey Deidrick has serious acting chops that made it something more. Still... it should have been "more" without having to rely on a single actor to get it there.
✓ Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday (Countdown to Christmas — Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Ashley Williams • December 5, 2021)
While I appreciate that Hallmark is open towards experimenting to shake things up... like having two interconnected movies in the same holiday season... I found this entry to be horribly boring. Basically, two sisters swap places (one in Salt Lake City, one in small-town Hazelwood) over the holidays. In this installment, Salt Lake successful restaurant owner heads home to Hazelwood with her son after the passing of Uncle Dave, who owned the local theater. While there they decide to have one last Christmas Movie Night in the old theater for the family. Alas, things spiral out of control, and soon the entire town thinks they are invited to the event. And then there's her old debate nemesis and his annoying daughter. They've conveniently both lost their spouses so, oh boy, guess what happens. There's nothing really smart or clever going on here, which made it feel like a waste of time. Maybe the follow-up will be more interesting.
✓ Good A Dickens of a Holiday! (Countdown to Christmas — Brooke D'Orsay and Kristoffer Polaha • December 10, 2021)
I read the synopsis (something about a major movie star agreeing to play Scrooge back in his home town production of A Christmas Carol) and thought I could feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head. So imagine my surprise when I found that it was actually a darn good Hallmark holiday movie! First of all, it has a different feel to it. Second of all, the chemistry between Brooke D'Orsay and Kristoffer Polaha is firing on all cylinders, and Polaha managed to really sell his character in unexpected ways... maybe because he played everything with a casual cool which actually made it seem like he was Hollywood's biggest star. If there's a part that falters a bit, it's the near constant praise that gets heaped on Brooke D'Orsay's character for being the best director the world has ever seen. Now that actually was an eye-rolling spectacle. Still, great effort on this one all the way around.
✓ Okay A Royal Queens Christmas (Countdown to Christmas — Megan Park and Julian Morris • December 11, 2021)
Yet another "She Didn't Know He Was A Prince" story that's been run into the ground a million times. This one doesn't really have anything new to say on the subject... but it did have a pretty good cast and some nice music by Rob Thomas which elevates it from "forgettable" to "okay." A woman in queens has to recruit a guy that owes her a favor to play piano at a school fundraiser. His charming British accent was just a curiosity, until he's revealed to be a prince. Then there's the inevitable "YOU LIED TO ME!" Followed by the "I DON'T LOVE THE WOMAN SELECTED TO BE MY PRINCESS, I LOVE AN AMERICAN COMMONER!" Followed by the "WE, THE KING AND QUEEN, HAVE BEEN SHOWN OUR ANTIQUATED WAYS ARE WRONG!" And the "I KNOW I'VE ONLY KNOWN YOU LESS THAN A WEEK, BUT I LOVE YOU MORE THAN MY CROWN!" I wish that Hallmark would find something new to do with this formula. At least My Summer Prince gave us the gift of Marina Sirtis.
✓ Okay Sister Swap: Christmas in the City (Countdown to Christmas — Ashley Williams and Kimberly Williams-Paisley • December 12, 2021)
Of the two "Sister Swap" movies, this one was more of a traditional Hallmark romance (less distraction with the family drama) which means I liked it better. And I have to admit the way that they wove the two films together was pretty good, because you get to see the other side of things that were happening between the scenes of the first movie. In this one, the other sister is helping out at her sister's Salt Lake City restaurant, which is embroiled in a Christmas contest amongst SLC eateries to win a charity prize. And... oh yeah... the manager of the restaurant proves to be quite the snack, and so something might happen there. Oh, who are we kidding, they totally are getting with each other. Ultimately I liked the whole two-movie tie-in concept, and I hope that Hallmark gives it another go (UPDATE: apparently they are doing one better in January with three interconnected movies, so wish granted).
✓ Sugar Plum Twist (Countdown to Christmas — Jamie Gray Hyder and Ektor Rivera • December 17, 2021)
Good Lord. How many times do we have to revisit The Nutcracker before Hallmark finally pronounces the trope dead-and-buried? Granted, they at least tried to make it something new by having it revolve around Latin dance, but it's still yet another Hallmark movie built around The Nutcracker. Professional retired ballerina ends up working with a young ballerina while trying to modernize the same old The Nutcracker story. In the meanwhile she's got a rather bland romance going on that seems like more of an afterthought than the focus of the movie.
✓ Okay The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls (Countdown to Christmas — Jonathan Bennett and Robert Buckley • December 18, 2021)
Oh look... it's a sequel to "that gay Hallmark Christmas movie." Which is really a stretch, because Hallmark wouldn't dare feature a gay couple as stars of one of their movies. Their viewers might have their heads explode. But a gay couple co-starring? Eh. That's probably okay. What's surprising is that they're allowed to adopt a kid and kiss on-screen. In any event, this is actually a really good movie that got sabotaged by the over-the-top conflict that's written between the two brothers. It's taken to stupid levels of absurdity that make difficult to turn your brain off and enjoy things. Which is a real shame, because this would be a far better movie without it. Still, the story of two brothers competing to "win Christmas" by having the best house decorations is pretty good and everything around the crazy conflict is pretty great. I wouldn't mind at all if we got a Christmas House 3, but hopefully they won't slide the characters backwards to where they were with this.
✓ Favorite 'Tis the Season to be Merry (Countdown to Christmas — Rachael Leigh Cook and Travis Van Winkle • December 19, 2021)
This story is nothing new. Hallmark has done it to death a dozen times over. But it's really well done. From charming, funny dialogue to terrific performances, this is what makes Hallmark holiday movies work. Rachael Leigh Cook is a romance advice writer who invented a fictitious boyfriend for her book... and then has to deliver on it. Not knowing what to do, she accompanies her editor back home for Christmas to the family Christmas tree farm. But only because the editor's geeky brother who had a crush on her when they were in high school would be in a foreign country doing volunteer work. Well, you can guess what happens next. And if you can't, this must be your very first Hallmark movie! Congratulations! I can see why they saved this one for last. My favorite movie this year was Eight Gifts of Hanukkah, but this was tied for my favorite actual Christmas movie (with The Christmas Promise).
✓ Okay Finding Love in Mountain View (Danielle C. Ryan and Myko Olivier • September 19, 2021)
The story has been done more than a few times before... a woman finds out that she is named legal guardian of the kids of a friend/sister/cousin after they die (usually in a car accident). After an initial period of the kids hating on her, and a lot of mistakes made, she wins them over and decides to abandon her boyfriend back home so she can stay with the kids and hook up with her high school boyfriend. The End. This movie is exactly that And I mean exactly. They didn't change a single thing in the formula. Except to make the abandoned boyfriend a serious jerk. But at least the acting talent was darn good (including the kids!), which made this take on the material better than it had a right to be.
✓ Favorite One Summer (Sam Page and Sarah Drew • October 3, 2021)
Sam Page is the best part of most any Hallmark movie he's in... and that's definitely the case with this one where his talents are put center-stage. Fortunately he has the range to deliver the emotional punch that's needed to propel the story... and to override the inane bratty daughter angle that seems to plague these things. It's like Hallmark can't even conceive of a story where there's at least one horrible kid making everybody miserable. But anyway... veteran nearly dies when he comes back from war, but in a cruel twist of fate, it's his wife that dies in a car crash just as he's making a miraculous recovery. Deciding to take the family vacation that his wife had planned for them anyway, it's a Summer filled with confrontations, first love, new love, and a family learning to move on from tragedy. And there's a lighthouse. And a ghost. And an ending that brings everything full circle so perfectly that you really can't fault it.
✓ The Vows We Keep (Fiona Gubelmann and Antonio Cayonne • October 10, 2021)
The idea was solid (wedding planner has to deal with an ungrateful boss and then faces a major setback in planning her sister's wedding)... the casting was terrific... and everything seemed like this was an easy home-run. But what it actually was... is boring. So horribly boring. They stretch stuff out and meander as if they know there's a finish line at the 90-minute mark, but didn't put much thought into how they got there. Which might not be so bad if the ending wasn't telegraphed in the first ten minutes so there were absolutely no surprises to be had. But there wasn't. And while the leads certainly had character, not a lot of effort was made to make the romance at the very end seem even remotely realistic. It's like like... oh, they love each other now... the end! So many other Hallmark movies handled it so much better that I'm not really understanding how something with so much promise fell through the cracks.
✓ Okay Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Vows We Have Made (Eric Mabius and Kristin Booth • October 17, 2021)
The characters in this series have quirky personalities that tend to bury the story they're trying to tell, and this time is no different. This time the team works on a letter from a little boy diagnosed with leukemia looking for his friend that was damaged in a maple syrup crash. But, as nice as that story could have been, we have to deal with Oliver and Shane's wedding drama (with her wacky mom, BECAUSE OF COURSE) and Norman and Rita buying a new house and wanting a child. Ultimately, there's nothing about these stories that are "bad"... they just are so scattered in direction and tone as to be distracting. Eye-rollingly stupid one minute. Heart-wrenchingly touching the next. It's exhausting and not much fun. But the main story is too good to ignore, so this one isn't a total loss.
✓ Okay Christmas in My Heart (Miracles of Christmas — Heather Hemmens and Luke Macfarlane • October 22, 2021)
Luke Macfarlane rarely disappoints, and he's at the top of his game here. After a country music star's wife dies, he packs up their daughter and moves back to her hometown and becomes a recluse. But fate intervenes when his daughter, a promising violinist, needs help preparing for a holiday concert and manipulates events to hire a tutor. The tutor just happens to be in town taking over for her deceased mother's music store to get things settled before heading back to New York to continue her music career. The inevitable happens, but not before a few bumps have been thrown in the road. Overall this had a great cast making the most of a fairly tired story. Just once I wish there would be an interesting twist to make these things worth my time... but nope!
✓ Favorite The Christmas Promise (Miracles of Christmas — Torrey DeVitto and Dylan Bruce • October 30, 2021)
Look, there are no surprises here. None. This is about as straightforward as Hallmark gets. But there are times I just don't care, and this is one of those times. The leads are flawless and there's just too many charming moments to ignore. After a tragic holiday accident takes the life of her fiancé, a woman understandably has trouble moving on. Flash-forward to a year later. After learning how her grandfather (Patrick Duffy!) got over the grief of losing her grandmother by writing her letters, she starts texting her fiancé's phone in the hopes she can get out her feelings and get on with her life. Then one day... a guy experiencing a grief of his own texts back, having gotten the number when he bought a new phone. MEANWHILE, she's finally ready to sell the house that she and her fiancé bought together, but first it needs to have a lot of work done. Fortunately she has an employee who knows a guy. Hallmark happens. It's kinda strange that this strong of a movie wasn't saved for later in the season, but I guess they wanted Christmas to come early.
✓ Okay Debbie Macomber’s A Mrs. Miracle Christmas (Miracles of Christmas — Kaitlin Doubleday and Steve Lund • November 6, 2021)
Oh wow... it's Jake from Schitt's Creek... Steve Lund! I never saw the original two Mrs. Miracle movies, but if they're anything like this one I think I might try to hunt them down (and now that I know they are unrelated to the absolutely horrific Mr. Miracle from 2014, I will). After Doris Roberts passed, the role has been awarded to Caroline Rhea, who is flawless as the terminally chirpy miracle-worker who always seems to know exactly what to say to help people work through their most difficult times. In this movie she's a caregiver for a couple's grandmother after an accident, but the ones more in need of help are the couple, who have had trouble moving forward in their life after tragedy struck. It's the kind of heartwarming feel-good movie that isn't too cloying (but, well, you know), and a welcome addition to the season's slate of films. I kinda hope that there are more Caroline Rhea miracles in our future.
✓ One December Night (Miracles of Christmas — Eloise Mumford and Brett Dalton • November 13, 2021)
A music manager is trying to find a gig for a talented client, but is finding it tough. Her boss tells her that she'll make it happen... IF she can convince her rock star father to reunite with his rock star partner for a special performance. Unfortunately this means confronting the partner's manager who happens to be his son. And of course they have a past together. They managed to get two actual stars... Bruce Campbell and Peter Gallagher... to play the dads, so at least they had got some gravitas to make that part of the movies work. This is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it was fun to watch because the cast managed to make a mediocre story work. But I think that was the plan all along..
✓ Five More Minutes (Miracles of Christmas — Nikki DeLoach and David Haydn-Jones • November 20, 2021)
This is a strange one. And since it has a secret to it that would ruin the movie if I talk about it... I won't. Except to say that the way they went about the secret makes zero sense, and once you see the ending you'll be wondering why in the heck they didn't make more use of what the secret was. It was almost SO buried that it's inconsequential to the story. In which case it's like... WHY BOTHER?!? So while this easily could have been a great movie... it ended up not even registering to me because of how huge a missed opportunity it was. Oh well. This is actually one of those Hallmark plots I actually hope does get recycled so we get a better take on it.
✓ Good Time for Them to Come Home for Christmas (Miracles of Christmas — Jessy Schram and Brendan Penny • November 27, 2021)
There have been dozens of amnesia romance movies... but how many have there been ON A ROAD TRIP? Not only that, but this is an adjacent sequel to 2019's Time for You to Come Home for Christmas (Alison Sweeney has a brief cameo to tie the films together, though there's no mention of 2018's Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas or 2020's Time for Us to Come Home for Christmas). The adorable Jessy Schram is in a small Maine town for some mysterious reason when she's hit by a car while walking on a bridge and falls into a river. Of course she gets amnesia. One of the nurses at the hospital has a mysterious past of his own that revolves around family tragedy. Since the only clue to her identity is in Charleston, and he ends up driving home home to Georgia, he gives her a lift. Along the way secrets will be revealed and something may or may not develop between them! Can you guess if it does? Can you? Can you?!? This is upper-level Hallmark, mostly thanks to Jessy Schram, who's just so unbelievably good at these things. But it would be impossible to discount Brendan Penny, who has to do the emotional heavy-lifting.
Our Christmas Journey (Miracles of Christmas — XXX and XXX • December 4, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
✓ A Godwink Christmas: Miracle of Love (Miracles of Christmas — Katherine Barrell and Alberto Frezza • December 11, 2021)
BRRRRRrrrring!! That magical sound is Hallmark broadcasting that a Godwink just happened just in case you need it pointed out (a Godwink being a small miracle of divine intervention... or maybe a coincidence.... One of those things). This fourth Godwink movie centers around two people who volunteer for some kind of church-based work to restore a house for a family who lost theirs. The woman has a boyfriend back home looking for a house they can move into, but that doesn't stop her from falling in love with her co-volunteer! Rowr! The problem with these movies is they take a sweet true story that could be summarized in a few paragraphs and drags them out to a 90-minute movie. It's so boring. But what's worse? The writers try to make every moment so darn precious that it comes across as nauseatingly artificial. And this installment was the worst abuser yet. They could have easily just told a sweet story of good people doing good things and let it sell itself... but that wasn't good enough. By the time the horrible thing happens that has everybody clinging to their faith, I just didn't care (and was outright laughing at the parents who thought their injured son needed FAMILY ONLY to be near him... =eyeroll=). IS HE GOING TO BE OKAY? Yes! Roll credits!.
Christmas for Keeps (Miracles of Christmas — Christa B. Allen and Ryan Rottman • December 18, 2021)
Probably the most boring movie out of the entire season. A group of boring friends with their boring problems gather to honor their high school drama teacher (the least boring character, and he's dead). I am not joking when I say I was falling asleep and had to pause it until the next day so I could finish the thing. For the life of me I can't understand how anybody at Hallmark thought this was a viable concept. Since everybody is squeaky-clean (it's Hallmark) there's nothing going on to make you care about these characters. I'm not saying that there needs to be an abortion or a cheating husband or anything... but SOMETHING to create tension in the group in order to make you feel something... anything... would have made this film bearable. As it is? =yawn=
✓ Good Much Ado About Christmas (Susie Abromeit and Torrance Coombs • October 30, 2021)
GAC Family's bid to take on Hallmark got off to a really good start with this flick. The leads have chemistry for days, and they managed to add a twist on Shakespeare's classic play that actually made sense. Heir to her mother's financial empire, a woman is tired of all the guys she meets who are only interested in her because of her family's money. All that changes when she meets a guy who has no idea who she is when she's volunteering to serve hot cocoa at one of her mom's events. Will her secret tear their relationship apart before they've even begun? Well, of course not... but it could have, which is what the entire story hinges on. All-in-all this movie bodes well for the new network. Though the lack of diversity is more than a little alarming.
The Great Christmas Switch (Sarah Lind and Dillon Casey • November 6, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
Christmas Time Is Here (Rukiya Bernard and Dewshane Williams • November 13, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
✓ A Kindhearted Christmas (Jennie Garth and Cameron Mathison • November 20, 2021)
I would have bet money against Cameron Mathison bailing on Hallmark to be in a GAC flick, but here we are. I guess once they canceled his Home & Family talk show he didn't feel the need to be loyal (no idea if this means the Alison Sweeney Murder She Baked Hallmark movies are over). But anyway... after the death of her husband, Jennie Garth decides to honor his memory (and love of Christmas giving) to anonymously donate the entire money goal of a local fundraiser for band kids. Apparently she's loaded, because she decides to make more anonymous gifts... and enlists some friends/family to help so she has an alibi for the local reporter who's trying to get to the bottom of the mystery giver. As she spends more time with the reporter "helping" something starts to happen... and Hallmark happens. Except it's on GAC Family and not Hallmark. This one is okay, but it felt pretty drawn-out. This could have easily been an hour-long instead of 90 minutes. And the YOU BETRAYED ME! moment is one of the most idiotic I've seen. Still... nice to see Jennie Garth again!
✓ Angel Falls Christmas (Jessica Lowndes and Chad Michael Murray • November 26, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
✓ Royally Wrapped for Christmas (Jen Lilley and Brendan Fehr • November 27, 2021)
Any time I run across a guy speaking some non-specific pan-European accent, I'm just going to assume that they are royalty. If there's one thing that these kinds of movies have shown me, it almost always ends up being true. In this case it's a prince who is visiting New York to check in on an arm of the charity that his royal family supports. And poor Jen Lilley has no idea! Turns out the prince is there with the current global head of the charity to find the most impressive candidate to become the new charity head. And Jen Lilley is a secret candidate! She gets invited back to whatever fake country he hails from along with two others in order to be secretly evaluated by helping to plan some big gala for the foundation (Valdonia was it?). I WONDER WHO WILL WIN?!? There's some wacky inconsistencies which made this a weird one (two people holding armloads of wrapped presents talking about how they have to hurry because they have all these gifts to wrap?), but boy was the set decoration amazing. Sadly, this one-billionth entry in the I FELL IN LOVE WITH A PRICE! movie list wasn't anything too exciting. We've seen it before (and seen it done better).
✓ Christmas Is You (Becca Tobin and Matthew MacCaull • November 28, 2021)
Popular musician dumps his management in order to pursue the music he wants to pursue. Meanwhile a record company exec is given the task of signing the popular musician to the record label she works for so she can get a big promotion. Shocker... THE POPULAR MUSICIAN IS HER EX-BOYFRIEND! This is a retread of a story I've seen before and doesn't bring much new to the table. If GAC wants to make a name for themselves in the Christmas Movie Rom-Com market, they're going to have to try harder than this.
✓ Good Jingle Bell Princess (Merritt Patterson and Trevor Donovan • November 28, 2021)
A privileged real-life princess from yet another small European-ish fake country gets stuck in a small Maine town for the holidays when a huge storm blows into town. A woman at the airport offers to let her stay at her home with herself... her handsome, strapping, widowed son, and his young daughter. AND THEY HAVE NO IDEA THAT SHE'S A PRINCESS! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!? Of course you can. This happens at least once a year in the Countdown to Christmas™®. This is a massively redundant film that's salvaged by Merritt Patterson, who looks like she could actually be a princess in Real Life.
✓ A Lot Like Christmas (Maggie Lawson and Christopher Russell • December 5, 2021)
I was looking forward to this movie because I'm a fan of Maggie Lawson from Psych. Turns out it wasn't worth looking forward to. A small-town Christmas Tree farm is really nervous when a big box retailer blows into town offering cut-rat trees and blowout prices with free delivery to entice people to shop at the store. How will they ever survive? Fortunately a big city executive takes a liking to Maggie Lawson and provides some advice on how to compete. BUT HE SECRETLY WORKS FOR THE COMPETITION! The horror! If only Maggie Lawson was enough to propel this tired take on a tired story into something worth my time. But, alas...
✓ A Christmas Miracle for Daisy (Jill Wagner and Nick Bateman • December 11, 2021)
Lord. My eyeballs rolled into the back of my head within the first ten minutes and then got stuck there. Successful businessman moves back home after conquering the world and selling his company. Brings along his annoying-as-all-get-out adopted daughter. Hires a designer to furnish his new mansion before Christmas. Designer ends up being his ex fiancé. Or old girlfriend. Or whatever. To be honest I was only half-paying-attention because that's the only way I could maintain my sanity. Annoying girl makes an annoying wish to Santa that her daddy and the designer fall in love so she can have a new mommy. Gag.
A Christmas Star (Starring Sarah Canning and Daniel Lissing • December 12, 2021)
Haven't seen yet.
✓ Joy for Christmas (Starring Cindy Busby and Sam Page • December 19, 2021)
This one starts out with a little girl looking in a charity store window saying "Why aren't there any toys?" with a whine. And it only goes downhill from there. Fortunately a woman who just quit her job as a publicist can do something about it since it was her family's firm that sponsors a toy giveaway. What a wild coincidence! Alas, the toy charity... along with a lot of other charities... ended up hit with scams so there's no more money! WHAT'S A PUBLICIST TO DO?!? Team up with a guy who doesn't care about Christmas, of course! Cindy Busby and Sam Page are two of the better Hallmark actors. How they got lured away to this GAC Family mess is beyond me.
✓ Good Single All The Way (Starring Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers • December 19, 2021)
Last year ended up with both the best "gay" holiday movie I've ever seen (Dashing in December) and the worst (Happiest Season). Netflix has somewhat redeemed themselves with the latter with this year's offering Single All the Way. This time a single gay guy who's tired of his family asking him why he doesn't have a boyfriend finally has a boyfriend to take home for the holidays. Except he's married. And cheating on his wife. So enter Plan B: ask your best friend to pretend to be your boyfriend when you go home for Christmas! Genius! But before he can even put the plan into motion, his mother sets him up with a guy from her gym. Problem is... his best friend really does have feelings for him. What follows is a pretty good rom-com that doesn't fall into the more obvious traps that usually sink these kind of movie. So thank heavens for that much.
✓ A Castle for Christmas (Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes • November 10, 2022)
Brooke Shields is a popular writer who just killed off her most famous character. Retreating from fan backlash, she runs to the Scottish Highlands where her dad grew up as the son of a castle groundskeeper. There she meets a crotchety old Cary Elwes who is the current owner and wants nothing to do with her. Until she buys the place. This is a fairly by-the-numbers rom-com that heavily trades on the fact that two major stars are in it. And the location is amazing.
✓ A Furry Little Christmas (Kristi Murdock and Jonathan Stoddard • December 5, 2021)
A widowed big city New York vet and her son head back home to Vermont for the holidays where she meets a "real doctor" in town who rubs her the wrong way... only to eventually start rubbing her in all the right ways. But will she leave her career aspirations behind to help her dad run his vet business? Well, gee... let's think about that... okay, yeah, of course she won't. Which would be fine if they found a way to make it in any way interesting, but this is so paint-by-the-numbers boring that there's no chance of that.
✓ Okay Love, Lost and Found (Danielle C. Ryan and Trevor Donovan • January 6, 2021)
No offense to Danielle C. Ryan and Trevor Donovan, but I really wish that this movie focused on Jake Stormoen (from The Outpost) because he's always hilarious. And despite the fact that he's supposed to be the most annoying character on the show (so you don't mind him getting dumped), Stormoen's natural charm actually makes him my easy favorite... and I found the other characters to be far more irritating (she's atrocious). But anyway... Jake Stormoen is an obsessive vlogger who wants to propose to his girlfriend on a beautiful location up in the mountains at sunset as a surprise. But his girlfriend is so self-absorbed that she never stops working, gets irritated because there's no cell service in the mountains, and insists that she doesn't want to wait until sunset for her surprise. Jake Stormoen tries to drag things out by having her shoot some photos of him for his blog content, but she backs off a cliff and falls down a hill and is washed down a river. Fortunately Trevor Donovan (WHO HAPPENS TO BE HER EX-BOYFRIEND!) is around to save her and help her get back to civilization. Meanwhile Jake Stormoen tumbles down a hill while looking for his girlfriend, but a forest ranger who's obsessed with him takes it upon herself to help him look for Danielle C. Ryan while falling in love with him. There are absolutely zero surprises, but boy does this movie have beautiful scenery to look at.
✓ Favorite Blueprint to the Heart (Laura Mitchell and Dennis Andres • January 10, 2021)
The simple truth about most of these "Hallmark-Style Rom-Coms" is that the parts are fully interchangeable. You could swap actors and the movie may be better or may be worse, but it's still going to be pretty much the same. There are exceptions, of course... like Paul Campbell in Surprised by Love (2015) where he's pretty much irreplaceable in that character. And here we are again with Dennis Andres in Blueprint to the Heart. This movie 100% relies on his goofy charm to work, and he totally delivers. I cannot fathom another actor stepping into this role and completely nailing it like he did. But I digress. A woman with a home restoration television show is threatened with cancelation if she doesn't shake things up for the new season. The solution is to do a "lifestyle makeover" on a quirky carpenter who blundered into filming for the season finale. As she works to change the carpenter, his home, and his life for ratings gold, she finds that there are some lines she won't cross to achieve success. But some she's happy to stand by and watched be crossed by others? This movie is so close to being great... and could have been if only UpTV had taken another pass on the scenes which take place outside the filming of the restoration show. These interludes drag and detract, which causes the flick to screech to a halt each time. But even so, I liked this one quite a lot, and was completely blown away by Dennis Andres and his easy chemistry with Laura Mitchell. If Hallmark doesn't nab him for one of their films, they are failing at their mission.
✓ Colors of Love (Jessica Lowndes and Chad Michael Murray • February 5, 2021)
Oh noes! Jessica Lowndes just lost her job as a library researcher! Oh yay! Her brother invites her to come stay with him and his family while she looks for a new job. Oh noes! On the drive to her brother's hotel, she hits a patch of ice and ends up in a ditch! Oh yay! Chad Michael Murray stops to give her a ride and calls a tow truck. Oh noes! Turns out Chad Michael Murray is a tech mogul who wants to turn Jessica Lowndes's brother's 100 year-old hotel into a modern resort! Oh yay! Jessica Lowndes just happens to be a library researcher who can find a significant even to get her brother's hotel put on a historic register to save it! Oh noes! She's totally falling in love with Chad Michael Murray though! Oh whatever. There's nothing wrong with this movie, per se... it's just so painfully basic as to be cringe. Lowndes is fine and Chad Michael Murray turns in a good, grounded performance like he always does... there's just nothing going on in the story to make this in any way special. Which is a real shame when it comes to Dennis Andres being 100% wasted as Jessica Lowndes's brother. He followed Blueprint to the Heart and Hint of Love with this?? Tragic.
✓ Favorite Sincerely, Yours, Truly (Natalie Hall and Marshall Williams • February 14, 2021)
Let's just get this out of the way... this is a You've Got Mail clone, and it's kind of pitiful that it got made when it's so obviously a retread. And yet... Natalie Hall. She will forever be A Winter Princess (one of my favorite Hallmark movies of all time) and she totally captivates me like nobody else. She projects a kindness that you can't help but fall in love with, and this movie uses her talents to their fullest. This time she runs a non-profit which lets kids see how gardening works... and donates all the produce to soup kitchens so people can eat it. Early in the movie two events occur. 1) Natalie Hall moves into a place where finds love letters that the previous tenant left behind which she and her best friend obsess over. 2) She's put into competition for funding against an irritating guy who just happens to end up at the same shared office space that she ends up in. The best friend contacts the guy who wrote the letters via a secret Twitter account and pretends to be Natalie Hall. AND GUESS WHO THE GUY IS?!? (and it's hilarious that they hid his identity for as long as they did when it's painfully obvious). An incognito romance develops just as they start becoming friends at the shared office space. So... like I said... a You've Got Mail retread. But a pretty good one, all things considered. The two leads completely sell the sweet romance angle that the movie is built around, and it goes a long way towards making the film... bearable... then decent... then pretty good... then a favorite (despite the fact that non-profit funding does not look anything like this). Thank you, Natalie Hall.
✓ A Wedding to Remember (Christina Rosato and Greyson Holt • February 27, 2021)
The idea behind this is a good one... two people who hate each other in real life because he wants to plow under her sustainable community garden project are forced to put aside their differences when they find out that they are best man and maid of honor at their best friends' respective weddings. Unfortunately, it's just so darn tired in implementation. How many times have we seen this exact same "big corporation wants to destroy small community project" plot device? Unfortunately the one small twist to the norm... the big corporation is wanting to build affordable housing... is completely irrelevant because there's absolutely nothing new brought to the table in the final equation. No next-level acting or gorgeous scenery or anything else of note. So why bother? No clue why I did.
✓ Love on the Road (Erin Cahill and Jesse Hutch • May 1, 2021)
The host of a TV restaurant renovation show gets sent to renovate a small diner in a rural town... where the diner owner doesn't even know he's going to be featured on a TV show. His daughter and aunt submitted him without his knowledge. And of course a television network would totally feature a restaurant without speaking to the owner, so it all makes perfect sense! Of course they end up falling for each other. At least until the guy overhears a snippet of a conversation and there is a horrible misunderstanding over it. And heaven forbid he actually talk to her about it like an adult. It's so frustrating that these movies don't have anything more to offer than they same old tired tropes that have been run into the ground so often that it's not even funny any more. HELPFUL HINT: It's 2021. If your movie's story is still hinging on a "horrible misunderstanding" as a major plot point... just give it up already.
✓ Good Just for the Summer (Brant Daugherty and Hayley Sales • May 2, 2021)
A woman heads home to a party at her grandmother's only to immediately start being set up with a string of guys when all she really wants to do is rework her novel so it can get published. One of the guys she's set up with is her old high school boyfriend, who is having a similar problem with his grandmother setting him up, but he's not ready to date after a bad break-up. That's when the plan is hatched to pretend to be boyfriend/girlfriend for the Summer so that their grandparents will leave them alone. But then the darnedest thing happens... SPOILERS... they actually start falling for each other! By Hallmark standards, this is actually pretty good. The acting is better than usual (Brant Daugherty excels at adding humorous touches to his performances in these things), and the scenery is beautiful. Overall this was something that surprised me for how bad it wasn't. I'll take it.
✓ This Little Love of Mine (Saskia Hampele and Liam McIntyre • June 7, 2021)
=sigh= I got excited by this one because I had read up on Palm Cove (the filming location of this movie) when I was researching Double Island (a private island where the rich & famous can afford to play). Alas... while the filming location and resort are terrific, the story is so ham-fisted as to be laughable and the actors deliver the dialogue with all the subtlety of a brick. Fancy San Francisco lawyer gets a visit from her past when the father of her childhood friend calls on her law firm. His grandson refuses to take over the family's billion-dollar construction empire, so he's hoping that she can change his mind. So she leaves her fiancé behind and heads to the small island of Sapphire Cove where she grew up. Not only is the writing on the wall for the entire story... they frickin' telegraph everything several times and well in advance with lines like "THERE'S NO LAWER ON THE ISLAND AND WE HAVE TO GO TO THE MAINLAND FOR ALL LEGAL MATTERS AND IT'S VERY EXPENSIVE!" Oh gee... you don't think that the lawyer will leave her fiancé (who surprises her by showing up, of course) and set up a law office on the island so she can be with her old friend and new love, do you? DO YOU?!? In different hands, this could have been a decent movie. With a rewrite of the dialogue, a more deft and subtle performance by the stars... who knows? Instead, it's kinda a mess and doesn't hit like it needs to.
✓ A Whirlwind Wedding (Morgan Kohan and Drew Nelson • June 27, 2021)
A former event planner (ha!) heads home to help plan her mom's wedding when their planner falls through. New levels of ridiculousness ensues. The slog to get to the wedding was pretty painful, though Drew Nelson was pretty good at grounding his character. Problem is, this is hardly enough, as everything else is groan-inducing.
✓ Bookworm and the Beast (Nicola Posener and Jake Stormoen • 2021)
Woman is a social media expert. Man is a ruthless bank developer. Their paths cross in the worst way when he runs her father down in the street after a nasty conflict in a coffee shop... and she gets it all on video. In exchange for paying for dad's medical bills and saving his farm, "The Bookworm" agrees to revamp his terrible public image. ZOMG! I HOPE THEY DON'T FALL IN LOVE! The concept for so many "Hallmark-style" movies is that one of the couple starts out terrible but is eventually redeemed, so that wasn't anything earth-shattering... but running down her father in the street?!? Yeah. That was a toughie.
✓ Love Upstream (Kimberly-Sue Murray and Steve Lund • August 22, 2021)
Steve Lund became a favorite of mine after playing Jake on Schitt's Creek, and I try to catch other stuff he does... like this hot mess. He has less than zero chemistry with his co-star and the story is a sad retread of other movies that did the same story far better. In this one, a relationship expert gets dumped by her fiancé the day before her fourth book (about salvaging relationships) is due to be released. Naturally her publisher is quick to cut their losses and won't publish any other relationship books by her. Needing to earn a living, she decides to write a book about a city girl's guide to wilderness survival. And Jake from Schitt's Creek is the guide who teaches her how on the condition he not be named in the book. Whack-a-doodle antics and a pathetic (but so predictable) YOU BETRAYED ME! monkey wrench ensue. =sigh=
✓ Love in Translation (Michelle Argyris and Corey Sevier • September 12, 2021)
I love languages, so I thought a story about a translator "who knows almost every language you can imagine" would at least be interesting even if I haven't had the best of luck with UpTV movies. Alas, she knows Spanish, French, and Italian. It's not like she busted out some Navajo or Swahili to impress me. Also not impressing me? The story. Nobody who has "been to France multiple times" can be as ignorant about the French language as the guy in this movie. And I fail to understand how ANYBODY could not know how a headset works. Apparently in this universe they work like magic... where the microphone turns on when you want somebody to hear what you are saying... then automatically turns off when you don't want people to hear what you're saying. It's faulty details like this that pile up and kill any enjoyment I might otherwise have of the film. Oh well. The translator tries to teach a guy French to impress his detached French girlfriend... but ends up teaching LOVE instead. And while she may not know Navajo, she does know ancient Mesopotamian and can translate an ancient pendant which teams of historians were completely baffled by... so maybe I'm impressed after all?.
✓ Okay Fishing for Love (Andrea Brooks and Spencer Lord • September 8, 2021)
One of my favorite Hallmark actors is Paul Campbell because he manages to ground movies as an "every-man" so effortlessly. Even the most outlandish dramatic moments are brought down to earth when you have Paul Campbell in the movie, and he's salvaged many a ridiculous story. Spencer Lord, whom I don't recall ever having seen before, has the same quality. So even when the lead character is spiraling into an absurd tizzy because the fishing festival is in ruins and might have to be canceled, he's there to make it bearable. This becomes essential when we get to the stupid-tired plot trope of her overhearing something, misunderstanding what's happening, and blows up over her error. The movie would have long-since degenerated into idiocyville if not for Spencer Lord, and and him being able to salvage this one made me end up being okay with this tired, clichéd movie overall.
✓ An Ice Wine Christmas (Roselyn Sanchez and Liriq Bent • November 12, 2021)
Roselyn Sanchez is a sommelier who magically knows how to look in her heart and know what people want out of the wine they drink. She heads home to her godfather's small New York vineyard to celebrate Christmas with her sister and help with the ice wine harvest. After arriving she's shocked to discover that they've hired a wine scientist who is... shudder... looking into creating artificial ice wines. There are some problems with this story. Ice wine in December seems unlikely. And climate change makes it more and more unlikely that a place as far South as New York would even get a freeze before the grapes rot. The freeze would more likely be in January, if it did. And then... you're legally not allowed to call something an "ice wine" if it was created with anything but natural freezing. Otherwise? Cheesy but forgettable holiday movie fun.