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Hallmark Movies 2023

Last Updated on Monday, January 15th, 2024

Dave!Here's a checklist of all the Hallmark original romance movies from 2023 along with my comments on those I've seen.

Special movies of note are marked Favorite, Good, Okay, and BAD.


Hallmark Channel Originals 2023

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The Dog Lover's Guide to Dating
(New Year New Me • Rebecca Dalton and Corey Sevier • January 1, 2023)
Way to start the year, Hallmark. I watched this to the bitter end, and at almost every turn I kept getting distracted by how horrible the female lead is. Not the actor... the character. It's like she sets out to be hostile from the start, and doesn't change. It's so bad that I was honestly hoping that Corey Sevier would stick with his existing girlfriend because he seems too nice to be dragged into that nightmare. No joke... this could have been a nice flick because the idea behind it was good, but it needed to be drastically reworked.

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✓ Okay The Wedding Veil Expectations
(New Year New Me • Lacey Chabert and Kevin McGarry • January 7, 2023)
I was not a fan of the first trilogy of "Veil" movies because they just went too absurd too often. And while there's still a bit of that (the three friends jet off to see each other at the drop of a hat), this movie wasn't terrible (EXCEPT FOR KEVIN McGARRY'S ABSURD ATTEMPT AT A BOSTON ACCENT! LORD!). Not a bad movie at all... and there's a few laugh-out-loud moments that had me actually enjoying it (CLAP-ON! CLAP-OFF! THE CLAPPER!)... but I still feel that there's a better concept for a movie franchise.

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✓ Okay The Wedding Veil Inspiration
(New Year New Me • Autumn Reeser and Paolo Bernardini • January 14, 2023)
Probably the best "Veil" movie yet, all things considered. Autumn Reeser is facing off with a life crisis that threatens to derail her five-year plan when her husband has to rush back to Italy to cover the business due to his ailing father. Trying to balance her plans, her passions, her marriage, and her career may end up to be too much for her but, of course, Lacey Chabert and Alison Sweeney are never far away to make things better. No, really, they show up at random for an overnighter just when Autumn Reeser needs them most! There's a few moments in this one that are darn clever and, like the previous film, has me almost changing my mind about the trilogy (sextology?).

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✓ Good The Wedding Veil Journey
(New Year New Me • Alison Sweeney and Victor Webster • January 21, 2023)
Look, suspension of belief is just part of the game with Hallmark. You can either ignore all sense of logic and go with it or you don't and have a miserable time. But this one? This one?!? I guess I'm posting a spoiler here, so avert your eyes if you want to enjoy this fresh. Anyway... Alison Sweeney and Victor Webster are finally having that honeymoon they've been

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Love in Glacier National: A National Park Romance
(New Year New Me • Ashley Newbrough and Stephen Huszar • January 28, 2023)
Sigh. I am a huge fan of Stephen Huszar, and he's given us some fantastic character moments in some good (and not so good) movies (seriously, watch him in the background in My One & Only from 2019). I was anticipating that finally he would be in a leading role with this film... only to be bored out of my mind. She's a weather forecast expert who shows up to Glacier National Park and ends up in a slumber-inducing beef with a local rescue ranger that seriously went nowhere. When... when... will we get the movie Stephen Hussar deserves?

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✓ Favorite Sweeter Than Chocolate
(Loveuary • Eloise Mumford and Dan Jeannotte • February 4, 2023)
No matter how ridiculous the movie, Eloise Mumford always manages to elevate it into something watchable. And when you add Brenda Strong to the mix, I was anticipating greatness. And while not quite living up to my impossible expectations, it's still pretty great. A struggling chocolate shop owner reluctantly agrees to be interviewed in the hopes that her business will survive a rent increase. Unfortunately the interviewer is skeptical of her ability to make chocolates that help people find their true love on Valentine's Day (Hallmark, never once to miss a marketing opportunity, actually paired with Bissinger’s to create the "Cupid Chocolates" seen in the movie @ $15 a box). A sweet investigation into the diverse lives impacted by the chocolates follows. Eloise Mumford's last Hallmark movie was the sublimely perfect Presence of Love, my favorite Hallmark movie of all time. Her follow-up was probably never going to compare. But by keeping my expectations in check, I was able to thoroughly enjoy this one... mainly because the idea of somebody falling in love with Eloise Mumford is 100% believable as fact, not fiction. AND THEN they kinda stole the most romantic moment from a movie ever made (it's from Doc Hollywood)... AND THEN there's an obstacle that's actually not based on a stupid, overused trope... AND THEN they toss in a really cool match that you were hoping would happen... and somebody knew what they were doing here.

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✓ Okay A Paris Proposal
(Loveuary • Alexa PenaVega and Nicholas Bishop • February 11, 2023)
Maybe it's because I have a background in advertising that I think this movie's concept was kinda tough to swallow. An American flies to Paris to land a Paris diamond company's American advertising campaign. Unfortunately, her uptight ways clash with her Parisian co-worker who prefers to fly by the seat of his pants. Then... oh noes... a misunderstanding leads to them having to pretend that they are a couple. Complete with sharing a hotel room. One thing I can say wasn't hard to swallow was the cinematography, which was great. Even interior scenes had a French "glow" to them, and everything looked fantastic. And that's enough to elevate the show from mundane to okay.

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Welcome to Valentine
(Loveuary • Kathryn Davis and Markian Tarasiuk • February 18, 2023)
Man ruins a woman's life and he makes it up to her by driving her back to her home of Valentine, Nebraska. Where his car breaks and he gets stuck in the middle of nowhere. Then everything happens exactly as you'd expect it to happen with zero surprises and nothing interesting makes it worthwhile. Right up to the OH NOES! THE PARADE FINALE FLOAT! Moment.

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Made for Each Other
(Loveuary • Alexandra Turshen and Matt Cohen • February 25, 2023)
I don't even know what I'm doing anymore. At least this movie tries to do something different. And it's got Illeana Douglas, so there's that. But otherwise? It's just so absurd... a statue that comes to life based on a necklace that just happens to be in Illeana Douglas's purse? A sculptor's studio with no dust? Or anything else that would represent a studio accurately? A statue that's obviously a painted mannequin where the necklace "clicks" against his chest instead of sounds like its hitting stone? This riff on the movie Mannequin didn't even have a great story to it so that all the nonsense was forgivable. Oh well. points for trying, I guess.

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Game of Love
(Kimberley Sustad and Brooks Darnell • March 11, 2023)
This movie begs a question... do major Hallmark players like Kimberly Sustad get to pick and choose their movies? Because... yeesh. Both the leads are talented and deserved so much better than this. Game designer must team up with a guy from the marketing department to create a "love" game. The result is so groan-inducing that I was fast-forwarding just a little too long through commercials in order to speed this along. I never noticed what might have been missing. Hallmark needs to desperately start focusing on quality instead of quantity.

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A Winning Team
(Nadia Hatta and Kristoffer Polaha • March 18, 2023)
A woman is an angry professional soccer player. She gets into trouble because she's always fighting the refs on the field. She gets suspended and ends up going back home where her younger sister is in a school play. She falls in love with a local girl's soccer coach. Her attitude adjustment gets her welcomed back to play soccer. But oh noes! She'll miss her sister's school play and the big game! Or whatever. Suffice to ay that everything she wanted gets tossed out the window yet again, because Hallmark simply can't abide in a woman choosing her career over a guy she's known for five damn minutes. I am so very, very tired.

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A Picture of Her
(Spring Into Love • Kimberley Sustad and Rhiannon Fish and Tyler Hynes • March 25, 2023)
Tyler Hynes (one of the most consistently good Hallmark players) can only do so much. Sure there are times he's made a bad movie okay. But he can't make a bad movie great. Which is how I explain kinda liking this film. Tyler Hynes is a failed fine-art photographer who now shoots photos of the stars in L.A. while hating it. One day he snaps a photo of a pretty woman at a flower market and accidentally submits it. This ends up being a magazine cover, and the girl's small life is turned up-side-down. Who is this photographer that would do this to her? It surely couldn't be this random guy she met at the dog park who happens to be a photographer! Ugh. In the end, this movie annoyed me entirely too much despite having a great performance by Tyler Hynes and some cool supporting characters. Oh well.

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Love in the Maldives
(Spring Into Love • Jocelyn Hudon and Jake Manley • April 1, 2023)
This is a sad re-hash of Chasing Waterfalls and heaven only knows how many other Hallmark movies where a travel writer goes after some rare experience, gets told that it's not something for tourists, manages to BS her way into it anyway under the condition she never reveal it, then accidentally reveal the location to their editor so it gets published (or nearly published, as the case may be), all while some guy is being all YOU BETRAYED ME! over something that they should have never revealed to a frickin' reporter in the first place. At first I was going to give this movie a pass because the Maldives location shoots were just so beautiful... but Good Lord... GET A NEW STORY! I have no clue if Hallmark insists their writers only use the same damn story over and over... or if writers only write the same thing over and over because they know that's all Hallmark will purchase... or what. But this is so tired. It's gotten to the point where taking chances would be more valuable to me than having the same damn thing rehashed for the hundredth time. Hallmark desperately needs to grow some balls and break free of this infinite loop of reruns.

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✓ Good The Professional Bridesmaid
(Spring Into Love • Hunter King and Chandler Massey • April 8, 2023)
The guy from last Christmas's disastrous A Tale of Two Christmases is back in a decidedly better movie. He's paired with the lead from last Christmas's entirely forgettable A Royal Corgi Christmas. Both of them fare much, much better here. Although it took a minute to get going. Casey Manderson, appearing in what must be his 100th Hallmark film, kinda acted as a slap on the face to wake me up. A "professional bridesmaid" is hired to secretly keep the mayor's daughter's wedding on track, but ends up tasked with keeping a nosy reporter guy away from the mayor. What so strange is how her kooky job is made to seem perfectly normal (and necessary) because Hunter King just sells it all so well. Add to that the fact that Chandler Massey is able to come across as charming enough to sell his character, and the movie actually... works? Thanks to the casting.

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The Wedding Cottage
(Spring Into Love • Erin Krakow and Brendan Penny • April 15, 2023)
Lord. Hallmark Channel really knows how to take a great cast with a good concept... and then completely run it into the ground with stupid. Erin Krakow is trying to use a leaf blower and it's like she is from an alien planet and is completely confused by the way of the earthlings. This was written by Judith and Sara Berg... who apparently have zero problem portraying women as incompetent dipshits. Krakow's character is giving off serious "ZOMG! AIR IS BLOWING OUT THE FRONT OF THIS! IS THIS A GIANT HAIR DRYER?!? AND I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF NEWTON'S THIRD LAW WHICH STATES THAT FOR EACH ACTION THERE IS AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE REACTION BECAUSE ICKY SCIENCE IS FOR BOYS!!!" Meanwhile... Brandan Penny is a sculptor who instinctually know how to do plumbing repairs when OH NOES! THERE'S A WATER LEAK AND POOR ERIN KRAKOW HAS NO IDEA WHAT TO DOOOOOOO!!! Maybe it's time I take a break from Hallmark. These dated tropes are getting really old, and you'd think that Erin Krakow would be beyond doing this crap.

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✓ Okay A Pinch of Portugal
(Spring Into Love • Heather Hemmens and Luke Mitchell • April 22, 2023)
Portugal is a wonderful, beautiful country that I loved visiting. Any opportunity to revisit it... even in a movie... is a trip worth taking. Alas, glimpses of pretty scenery and flashes of Portuguese culture are about the only thing that makes this movie worth your valuable time. Which is surprising, because the actors are all top-notch. Basically, a famous television chef's assistant... WHOOPS!... prep cook is forced into the television spotlight when the temperamental chef walks off the show as some kind of power play move. She is, of course, a natural. Along for the ride is an Australian transplant cameraman who was a crush that never happened, and a handsome Portuguese guy named Lucas who runs the local produce market where she shops. It's not spoiling anything to say that the romance with Lucas doesn't pan out and she ends up with the cameraman. It's obvious. Because it's Hallmark. But it's the reason that the relationship with the Portuguese guy doesn't go anywhere that feels forced and unearned. Yes, manipulative guys like this who work a woman to get something they want are a dime a dozen in Real Life, but using him as a misdirect in a Hallmark film was a bizarre choice. It kinda undercuts her story to have her go running to the cameraman after finding out that the market manager was using her. Because her life is incomplete without a man, I guess? What sad is that they could have worked on the story a little more to have the cameraman be an empowered choice instead of the lesser of two evils. And the fact that it came after she started having some success makes it seem like he's chasing fame or something. I dunno. This could have been so much better with only a few shifts in story.

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✓ Okay Hearts in the Game
(Spring Into Love • Erin Cahill and Marco Grazzini • April 29, 2023)
It was easy to get invested in this one, The actors have serious chemistry right from the start, and the story was a pretty good one. Kinda-sorta unique. Well, for Hallmark anyway. But the massive gaps in logic paired with an end-scene reconciliation that was gag-inducingly horrible made it a tough movie to end up liking. But I digress. One of the so-called best publicists in New York is hired to revitalize the career of a star baseball pitcher after he chokes and loses a critical game for his previous team. But now he's being considered by The New York Mets, and the only way to clinch him getting signed is for him to do a story explaining why he choked. But... UH OH! He refuses to talk about what happened. But... UH OH! HE JUST HAPPENS TO BE HER HIGH SCHOOL FLAME! The journey to the baseball player giving up the story of what happened is good. But the journalist involved... WHO IS BRILLIANT AT HER JOB AND CAN TRACK DOWN ANY INFORMATION AT ALL wasn't able to uncover the painfully obvious answer as to what happened. And the publicist who, let's recap... IS ONE OF THE BEST PUBLICISTS IN THE WORLD AND HAS TONS OF POPULAR CLIENTS... absolutely MUST get the baseball player to spill his secret or else she is RUINED! She will lose her apartment! She will lose EVERYTHING! What kind of damn sense is that? How can she be the best as what she does AND have loads of popular clients, but also be one story away from financial ruin? It's Hallmark. I am not expecting air-tight logic and can overlook a lot... but this was expecting way too much. And the publicist's awful eye-rolling, groan-inducing declaration of love at the end was SO bad. Who is at the wheel at Hallmark? All it would take is a story editor to flag some EASILY-FIXED, obvious problems, and this could have been a much, much better film.

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When Love Springs
(Spring Into Love • Rhiannon Fish and James William O'Halloran • May 6, 2023)
While the PLEASE PRETEND TO BE MY BOYFRIEND BECAUSE MY EX IS HERE! trope has been done to death, this one doesn't have much to add to the formula to make it worthwhile. One the contrary, parts of it are so cringe that it's painful to watch. Though James William O'Halloran does have pretty good comedic timing and does a pretty good job with the stuff he's been handed, so there's that. Otherwise? Hallmark is asking a heck of a lot.

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✓ BAD! Love in Zion: A National Park Romance
(Spring Into Love • Cindy Busby and David Gridleyn • May 20, 2023)
Yeah, no. Just no. I stopped watching once the stupid became too overwhelming. I thought that I could put aside what a horrific mess of a movie this is and focus on the scenery to have something to enjoy about it... but there was no way. Cindy Busby is a white woman who's an expert on the Anasazi Native American culture receives some vases that were donated to her museum after a woman dies. BUT ONE VASE IS MISSING IN THE SET OF FOUR! And since her colonizer intuition is tingling, she decides to head to Zion National Park so she can be the white savior the Anasazi People and their culture by solving the mystery of the vase! It's like... holy shit. Haven't we had enough of this nonsense? I don't even care if ultimately she returned the three vases to their rightful owners after she found the fourth one... I couldn't stomach another minute of this hot garbage. And do you know how RARE it is that I dump out of a Hallmark movie?!?

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Wedding Season
(June Weddings • Stephanie Bennett and Casey Deidrick • June 3, 2023)
The premise of this film seemed dicey (woman exploits her three friends and their weddings to write an article to impress her boss), but it kinda redeemed itself in the end. And yet... the story itself felt kinda slimy, and I don't get how they thought it was going to work. Though casting Casey Deidrick, who was amazing in In The Dark, was a step in the right direction. In the end, I just couldn't buy into the movie and didn't really enjoy it. Probably because it has the same name of one of the best rom-coms ever made on Netflix.

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Love's Greek to Me
(June Weddings • Torrey DeVitto and Yannis Tsimitselis • June 10, 2023)
The entire time I was watching this movie I was thinking back to Marina Sirtis in My Summer Prince (2016) where she was fantastic... because this time they have her as an overbearing Greek mom and it was almost unbearable to watch, despite her being great in the role. The only reason to watch it would be to tune in for the incredible Santorini scenery (truly one of the most beautiful places on earth). Otherwise we get a surprise proposal where the actual couple and their relationship is shoved aside for a battle between Torrey DeVitto and Marina Sirtis. And it's okay. It just seems like a waste of Santorini and Marina Sirtis.

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✓ Favorite The Wedding Contract
(June Weddings • Becca Tobin and Jake Epstein • June 17, 2023)
Thank heavens. We finally got Jewish Hannukah movies for the holidays, now we're finally getting a Jewish wedding movie during June Weddings. Jake Epstein, who was gold in Eight Gifts of Hanukkah (2021) really knows how to inhabit these movies, and had good chemistry with Becca Tobin to sell the story. Which is essentially a Jewish version of Meet The Parents, but with two mothers-in-law battling through wedding planning from start to finish. Like most Hallmark movies, there's no challenges here, as the conflict is centered on the character's moms, but it is a nice watch just because it has a different feel hovering over the same story we've seen already. The fact that it's remarkably sweet, funny, and charming is just icing on the cake.

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✓ Okay Make Me a Match
(June Weddings • Rushi Kota and Eva Bourne • June 24, 2023)
Few things are more exciting that the gorgeous spectacle that is an Indian Wedding. Which is why I was happy to see that in addition to a Jewish wedding, we'd be getting an Indian wedding as well. The story is a bit cringe... it's basically a woman exploiting a matchmaker to create a dating app that can make matches with a high success rate. Except this is impossible, because Indian matchmaking can't be reduced to a computer program in your phone. By the time the woman figures this out (and falls in love with the matchmaker's son, natch) you get carried along with another culture that's not a copy/paste of every other Hallmark wedding movie. The movie was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had a better budget and really sunk its teeth into an actual Indian wedding. Once again I'm going to bring up the Netflix movie Wedding Season, which did it so much better. But even so... it's nice to have Hallmark finally start giving us new window dressing for the same old story.

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A Royal Christmas Crush
(Christmas in July • Katie Cassidy and Stephen Huszar • July 8, 2023)
I unapologetically maintain that Stephen Huszar is Hallmark's best-kept secret. He's regularly shoved into supporting roles where he excels, so it's nice when he's given a leading role. But before we get to that, it's important to mention that the movie leads actually starting dating during the making of the film, which means the chemistry on-screen is really real. It's also important to note that this is the first movie I can remember seeing where the lead character has visible tattoos! Katie Cassidy's arm tattoos are on full display early in the movie. BUT ANYWAY. Katie Cassidy's uncle designs an ice hotel in the pan-Scandinavian country of "Friorland" where people inexplicably have pan-European accents. AND ONLY HER AMERICAN INTERIOR DESIGN SKILLS CAN SAVE THE PROJECT! Her uncle is a bit of a Dr. Who in that the hotel is bigger on the inside than the outside, not that it matters. Because the real story in this film is the comic book villains Brigitta and Von Trier. Their shenanigans to doom the blossoming romance between Prince Stephen Huszar and Tattooed American Designer are absurd, but there's not much else.

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✓ Good Take Me Back for Christmas
(Christmas in July • Vanessa Lengies and Corey Sevier • July 15, 2023)
Okay, we get two Christmas in July movies this year, and this one is clearly superior. A woman wishes for a different life and, thanks to yet another Hallmark Magic Santa, wakes up to find that she has the life she always dreamed about... except her and her husband aren't together. She makes it her mission to get him back. Except... her mother, who died in her other life, is alive in this one. Which adds a spin to this oft-told-tale that's very much welcome. I enjoyed how everything played out, and how everything comes together to lead to a really nice conclusion. No, the story isn't new, but this version is very well-done from every angle, which was a nice surprise considering I expected to be bored to death.

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Aloha Heart
(Summer Nights • Taylor Cole and Kanoa Goo • July 29, 2023)
A conservationist heads to Hawaii for her friend's wedding. There she meets the manager of the resort who was given the job by his parents (who own it). From there she decides to school the manager on how to be more eco-conscious and disaster looms for the pending nuptials. Thrilling. And oh-so-romantic. What's disappointing is that Taylor Cole and Kanoa Goo gave it their all and deserved so much better. They could have gone a dozen different directions with the story, but this is what they went with? Bummer.

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Making Waves
(Summer Nights • Holland Roden and Corey Cott • August 5, 2023)
Look. I fully understand that there will always be a level of suspension of belief when it comes to Hallmark Channel movies. The writers are more about the romance angle than logic, and everything else is secondary. This is true on even my most favorite movies, and I can usually get past it. But this latest movie is just so outrageous that I couldn't get past it. A woman toiling at a record label convinces her ditzy boss that she should sign a band called "The Figure 8's" then goes back to where she grew up because that's where the band is at. AND... HOLY CATS! ONE OF HER OLDEST FRIENDS (and old crush) IS THE LEAD SINGER OF THE BAND! AND SHE HAD NO IDEA! Because apparently she's too dense to Google the band... and nobody who has ever seen the band ever took a photo?? WHAT THE HECK? That's not just illogical... it's offensively illogical. Why wouldn't she Google the band before going to meet with them? Is she a lunatic? Does she smoke crack? Apparently! This is the depths that Hallmark has reached.

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✓ BAD A Safari Romance
(Summer Nights • Andrew Walker and Brittany Bristow • August 12, 2023)
This film is hilarious. I was dying watching it. Almost literally... I choked on my salad. "THAT'S A REAL-LIFE GIRAFFE!" How Andrew Walker read that in the script and thought "Yes! That's what a real person would say!" I honestly don't know. And while we're on the unbelievable... good Lord, Hallmark... I get how you hired the whitest white woman ever to write a story about a white man falling in love with a white woman (sporting her Africa continent necklace)... but having a Black woman unironically say "Oh white woman... you are so smart and resourceful! How I admire you! I don't know how you manage to work part-time and finish your PHD... your life must be so hard!" (or whatever the heck that was) is just bonkers. Are there any persons of color in your script review process to flag this absolute nonsense?

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Never Too Late to Celebrate
(Summer Nights • Alexa PenaVega and Carlos PenaVega • August 19, 2023)
The only thing more painful than the artificial way that they shoehorned Mexican culture into this movie is Carlos PenaVega's frosted tips. Woman seeks to recapture her lost Mexican heritage by taking Spanish lessons with a teacher at her mom's school. She gets a lot more than that as ol' frosty tips drags her through a blur of all things Mexican. What's so frustrating is that it would be so great to have a good movie revolve around Mexican culture which didn't rely on having to hand-hold the gringos in such a fake outing as this.

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Napa Ever After
(Summer Nights • Denise Boutté and Colin Lawrence • August 26, 2023)
Partner attorney inherits her grandma's winery in Napa. Decides to pause her career for six months so she can renovate the vineyard operation. Fortunately a strapping local (and his daughter) is on-hand to give her a hand. So to speak. And good thing too... because she's COMPLETELY HELPLESS WITH EVERYTHING! She can't even do minor work without looking like she walked through a hurricane with sticks in her hair and everything.

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Love in the Great Smoky Mountains: A National Park Romance
(Fall Into Love • Arielle Kebbel and Zach Roerig • September 2, 2023)
Joy. Another movie with a white woman saving Native American culture for Native Americans. Sure there's Native American characters in the movie, but they aren't allowed to headline it? This is so embarrassing for Hallmark, and the only thing worth watching here is the scenery. Because the utter nonsense of this woman "discovering" a secret cave from legend that nobody has discovered before even though the Native American character LITERALLY DREW A MAP TO IT? Not enough eyerolls.

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Fourth Down and Love
(Fall Into Love • Pascale Hutton and Ryan Paevey • September 9, 2023)
Groan. GRROOOOOOOAN! The people in these movies are all too often completely ignorant of their actual careers. Photographers using the wrong lens. Designers not knowing how to communicate with their work. Executives not knowing how to run a company. It gets really, really old. And now we have an NFL player who doesn't understand sports injuries despite having just been out on an injury. "I know I have a bunch of fractured ribs, but you gotta let me play, coach! It's just downhill from there. Pro football player gets injured (again) and goes back home where his college sweetheart just happens to be. There it's one cliché after another... right down to coaching his niece's girls' football team and "ZOMG! I HAVE TO LEAVE BEFORE I CAN DIRECT THE CHRISTMAS PLAY!" Oops. I means "ZOMG! I HAVE TO LEAVE BEFORE I CAN COACH THE BIG GAME!" Are Hallmark writers really so uncreative that they can't come up with one of hundreds of options that haven't been done to death?

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✓ Good Notes of Autumn
(Fall Into Love • Ashley Williams, Luke Macfarlane, Marcus Rosner, and Peter Porte • September 16, 2023)
The whole "Let's switch homes to get out of our ruts!" trope has been used to death... but this has a nice take on it. First of all, one of the couples is two men, which makes this a fresh take for Hallmark regardless of the story. Second of all, there's a third fictional story with some surprising casting for Hallmark fans which made me like it even more than I already was. Best friends Ashley Williams and Luke Macfarlane decide to switch places to get inspired in their lives. And of course they meet the friends of their friend which leads to romance. But, in the end, this was a fun watch that was bucking a trend of boring sameness that Hallmark seems stuck in. Maybe THEY need to switch places with somebody?

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✓ Good Retreat to You
(Fall Into Love • Emilie Ullerup and Peter Mooney • September 23, 2023)
This is an okay story about a couple of high school friends getting lost in the woods after 17 years apart while at a retreat... that's elevated by the two leads. Emilie Ullerup has been in some Hallmark movies before, but Peter Mooney I only remember from Rookie Blue a decade ago. He's got some surprisingly vulnerable scenes that he completely nails and she's consistently good throughout. I could have done without some idiotic pratfalls that were not at all funny or entertaining, but overall it's worth a watch.

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A Very Venice Romance
(Fall Into Love • Stephanie Leonidas and Raniero Monaco Di Lapio • September 30, 2023)
Paint-by-numbers Hallmark flick predictability that has a beautiful backdrop of Venice that could have been so much more. I was bored. Maybe if we had gotten more Venice I would have liked it more? I dunno. Woman at a meal plan company insults their German recipe developer and has to go to Venice to find a different chef to develop better meals. He refuses. End of story. Except not, because she decides to make a complete nuisance of herself by joining his cooking class so she can convince him. Boring predictability ensues.

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✓ Favorite 3 Bed, 2 Bath, 1 Ghost
(Fall Into Love • Julie Gonzalo and Chris McNally • October 7, 2023)
This is a wild departure for Hallmark because the romance between two of my Hallmark faves (Julie Gonzalo and Chris McNally) is second to the story of friendship which develops between a modern-day real estate agent (Gonzalo) and a ghost from the 1920's played by Madeleine Arthur (who, if we're being honest, deserved top billing for her fantastic performance). I liked this one so much more than I expected simply because it was so unexpected. It's smart, funny, and different. Really would like to see more of these.

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✓ Good Field Day
(Fall Into Love • Rachel Boston and Benjamin Ayres • October 14, 2023)
Hallmark is expanding their reach by coming up with new rom-com stories which are not following the traditional tropes that define 99% of Hallmark movies. But anyway... three very different women have to come together to plan a field day for their kids. An initial clash quickly leads to friendship and the writers do a really good job of bringing the funny along the way so you're not annoyed by it all. But even that wouldn't save a movie with a terrible cast, and fortunately all three women they got for the job are great (of course Rachel Boston is as good as she always are). I don't know why we don't get more movies like this. Last year's Three Wise Men and a Baby was a highlight, so it seems weird that they don't tip this direction more often. But hopefully without some of the stupid (they had the sprinklers scheduled for a school event?).

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✓ Favorite Checkin' It Twice
(Countdown to Christmas • Kim Matula and Kevin McGarry • October 20, 2023)
Welp. Hallmark starts the season with a movie that could very well end up my favorite on the season. The plot isn't anything special... but the way they built the story of a woman going back to her hometown to visit her family and an aging hockey player ending up in town to try and move up to the pro leagues that have eluded him is fantastic. It's funny! and the two leads sell every single scene in a way that just takes it to the next level. Sure you know how it's going to end. No there are no surprises. And yet this is so beautifully done from all angles that you won't care. This is what you want in a Hallmark Christmas movie, and they delivered it all. I don't know if this bodes good or bad for the rest of the movies this year... but I'm happy they started out so strongly.

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✓ Good Where Are You Christmas?
(Countdown to Christmas • Lyndsy Fonseca and Michael Rady • October 21, 2023)
A pretty good mash-up of Pleasantville and a Hallmark Christmas movie. Woman has a car accident after returning back home... only to wake up to a world where everything is in black-and-white and nobody remembers Christmas! But after using the magical healing powers of the season to get a local mechanic to remember Christmas (and return to full color) it's a race to return the town (and herself) back to full-color before Christmas arrives. Like I said, it's pretty good. Probably could have been even better if they hadn't made the drama with her dad be so absurd and illogical. Oh well.

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Under the Christmas Sky
(Countdown to Christmas • Jessica Parker Kennedy and Ryan Paevey • October 22, 2023)
Woman who's heart is set on being an astronaut gets in an accident which affects her perfect vision, thus dashing her hopes and dreams. She ends up using her astronomy expertise to advise a guy and his whiny daughter on an exhibit for a planetarium. The result is a boring, boring, boring movie that I could barely get through. A movie this heavy-handed needs some lighter moments to keep it from being a slog, but there aren't any. Which is a shame, because the woman, her brother, and their parents are a wonderfully diverse family... and there's a sub-plot with the brother that may have actually been a better story. But, alas, there's nothing to see here. Move along.

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Christmas by Design
(Countdown to Christmas • Rebecca Dalton and Jonathan Keltz • October 27, 2023)
Haven't seen yet.

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✓ Favorite Mystic Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Jessy Schram and Chandler Massey • October 28, 2023)
“If you give a seal a fish, she’ll eat for a day. But if you teach a seal to fish, she will eat for a lifetime... barring natural predators and declining resources.” This is a really good movie with a great story and charming dialogue that's elevated to entirely new heights thanks to Jessy Schram and Chandler Massey. NOBODY plays awkward better and more naturally than Chandler Massey, and this flick takes full advantage of that. There are some genuinely funny moments that make it seriously worth your valuable time. Globetrotting marine scientist gets called back to Mystic, Connecticut to assist with a seal rescue at the Mystic Aquarium. Which is run by the sister of an old boyfriend. What's truly shocking is that this was actually filmed in Mystic. I thought for sure that it was Mystic exteriors with actual filming in Vancouver or whatever. Nope! I recognize those locations, and it adds a huge amount of atmosphere to the film. Plus... ADORABLE SEALS!!! Easy Favorite.

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✓ Favorite Joyeux Noel
(Countdown to Christmas • Jaicy Elliot and Brant Daugherty • October 29, 2023)
Look, Brant Daugherty totally earned my mark after The Baker's Son which is one of my all-time favorite Hallmark flicks. And he is fantastic in this one. I do not recall seeing Jaicy Elliot in anything, but she was awfully good too. And then they set the movie in this gorgeous city of Rouen, France... and, well... another great holiday film in a string of great films. Hallmark on a roll! Perky and optimistic about love journalist heads to France with a grouchy, seasoned journalist to find the story behind a French painting. They just might find more than they bargained for! And it's not just the leads who are good here. There's a fantastic French girl who isn't the least bit annoying, and all the French characters are worth watching in the small parts they have. Interestingly enough, this movie was written by Brant Daugherty himself along with his wife Kimberly. Surprisingly enough, she didn't end up as the other lead. Not sure why. So I Googled it. She's pregnant with their second child! Congrats! But anyway... this one ended in a cool way, so something extra to congratulate the Daugherty's on, I guess.

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Flipping for Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Ashley Newbrough and Marcus Rosner • November 3, 2023)
This one started out clever enough... with some good banter between the leads which had me hoping. But soon enough we devolve into the same, tired story we've seen a thousand times before. She's heading back to a small town at the behest of a large real estate developer. While flipping a house for her sister, she falls in love with the town and some random guy. The evil developer wants to put up condos and a shopping mall (or whatever) and now she has to... wait for it... SAVE THE TOWN AND SAVE CHRISTMAS! And the romance angle is only there to have a "YOU BETRAYED ME!" moment that made absolutely no sense. The big joke about Hallmark movies is that they all have the same plot. So why Hallmark literally leans into this idiocy is beyond my ability to fathom.

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Never Been Chris'd
(Countdown to Christmas • Janel Parrish, Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes, and Tyler Hynes • November 4, 2023)
It's like Romy and Michele's High School Reunion but for Christmas! Except instead of being airheads who lie about their success, these best friends actually are successful. Former geeks, they created a popular app called "Best Pal" which is like Tindr for making friends. When they are back to their home town for the "Jingle Ball" things fall apart after they are noticed by the popular boy from school. Can they repair their friendship and have a happy holiday (Christmas OR Hanukkah)? Oh probably. The movie itself isn't that bad (I appreciated that they came up with a new story), but it is pretty low-impact and sluggish. You have to really care about the landscape they're wandering through to make it a worthwhile watch but, alas, I didn't. It needed stronger highs and lows to be interesting, but just straddled the line the entire way through.

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✓ Favorite The Santa Summit
(Countdown to Christmas • Hunter King and Benjamin Hollingsworth • November 5, 2023)
If you can ignore the fact that this movie very clearly wasn't filmed in Winter and the horrible makeup used to make people look like they're cold... plus the blue filter they toss on everything to make the scenery look cold... this is actually a pretty decent flick. Three teacher friends decide to attend a "Santa Summit" where everybody dresses up as Santa and rotates through various venues to eat, drink, and be merry. The movie gets into gear when an dumped art teacher (dressed as Santa) hits it off with a woodworker (dressed as Santa) but they lose each other in a crowd... of people dressed as Santa. All he knows is that she carries a hand-embroidered purse. All she knows is that he has a tattoo of a tree on his wrist. The entire movie is him trying to track her down while everybody takes a shot at finding their Christmas prince. And the near-misses and close-calls are fun and entertaining along the way. What I simply cannot understand is why in the heck Hallmark doesn't film some of these things in actual winter. I mean, I'm assuming that it's easier to not film in real snow and cold, but this movie looks painfully bad because the fake winter they created is so godawful.

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Everything Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Cindy Busby and Corey Sevier • November 10, 2023)
Two roommates take a road trip to Yuletide Springs in honor of a wish from one of their late grandmothers. Along the way they find Sata Claus, Christmas magic, and two guys along for the journey. All while stopping to see Christmas attractions on the way. This was kinda a weird concept for a Hallmark movie... which would usually be a good thing... but this flick was such a snooze to endure that I was hoping something familiar would crash into it. Alas, I was tuned out as often as I was tuned in.

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✓ Okay Christmas Island
(Countdown to Christmas • Rachel Skarsten and Andrew Walker • November 11, 2023)
Andrew Walker manages to (mostly) make entertaining films out of those that should have been Hallmark disasters, so I was thinking that this one would be worth a watch. And it's definitely okay... it just kinda defies logic in weird ways. But anyway... SHE is a private airline pilot who is flying a wealthy family to some exotic destination for Christmas. HE is a by-the-book air traffic controller who does not appreciate her attempts at being funny. WHATEVER COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN HERE?!? One emergency landing on CHRISTMAS ISLAND later... and they're destined to meet, right? Surprisingly, there actually is a Christmas Island Nova Scotia, but it doesn't in any way line up with what's happening in the movie. But by far the worst offense is this: if you receive letters from all around the world... THEN MAILING THEM ON DECEMBER 23rd MEANS THAT THEY WILL *NOT* GET TO KIDS BY CHRISTMAS! Mail can arrive in one day? GLOBALLY?? Ultimately this was an okay movie that could have been so much better.

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A Heidelberg Holiday
(Countdown to Christmas • Ginna Claire Mason and Frédéric Brossier • November 12, 2023)
Lord. Heidi Heidelberg heads to Heidelberg to sell her hand-painted ornaments because she managed the impossible task of getting a booth at the annual Heidelberg Christmas Market. And, for some wacky reason, she actually thinks that she can make a profit after shipping all her ornaments and paying airfare. I might be able to overlook the wacky premise if the lead character wasn't profoundly annoying. But, alas... no such luck. Add in some idiocy with the shipment of her precious ornaments (HAND-BLOWN GLASS ORNAMENTS SHOVED IN A BOX?!? WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?!?), and I was checked out of this nonsense one-third of the way in. From there onward it was just wacky adventures in a pretty city that I couldn't wait to end. I find it utterly bizarre how these foreign guys always fall for a neurotic, loud, obnoxious American. I can suspend a lot for Hallmark, but I have my limits.

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✓ Good Navigating Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Chelsea Hobbs and Stephen Huszar • November 17, 2023)
I've been looking forward to this one because Stephen Huszar is hilarious. It didn't disappoint. It starts out with a woman trying to come up with something to do with her son because his father canceled their snowboarding trip. After Googling "Unique Christmas destinations near Seattle" she finds "St. Nicholas Island" where you can stay in a lighthouse. She books it, then drags her reluctant son there for the holiday. She doesn't hit it off with the lighthouse's owner at all, but once she starts settling in, it quickly becomes one of the best Christmases ever. The overall story is good, though it has its share of rough spots. Fortunately the cast manages to keep it together.

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A Merry Scottish Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Lacey Chabert and Scott Wolf • November 18, 2023)
If I had to guess, this movie was the result of Lacey Chabert telling Hallmark that in order to make a movie for them, they had to send her to Scotland and employ her ex co-star, and they went OKAY! Because there's just not a lot too it. Sister and brother (with his wife) are called to Scotland by their mother for Christmas. While there they find out that their mom is, in fact, the duchess of a castle and the surrounding village who inherited everything after her brother died. But since she abandoned her claim when she ran away to be a singer, the castle is to go to her kids... IF they want it. Inevitability ensues. There are literally zero surprises to this movie, and it just kind of meanders to its inevitable conclusion with no fanfare. I wouldn't exactly call it "boring"... but it desperately needed something besides glimpses of Scotland to make it worth watching. Alas, nothing was to be found.

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Holiday Hotline
(Countdown to Christmas • Emily Tennant and Niall Matter • November 19, 2023)
Hallmark has some wacky concepts, but this one is really out there. A British chef breaks up with her boyfriend and heads to Chicago with a ticket from her parents to think about a fresh start. While there she stumbles into becoming a phone operator for "Holiday Hotline" (essentially "The Butterball Turkey Hotline") to help people with their turkey-related questions and problems. Where she inadvertently ends up advising her neighbor from across the hall as he tries to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for his daughter, since his wife has died. Wacky coincidences and hijinks ensue. I had high hopes for this one, but wasn't exactly blown away. It was just too silly and annoying. Plus there were multiple painfully obvious Daisy Cottage Cheese product placements and Daisy Sour Cream commercials. They would have been far better off partnering with Butterball Turkey and doing it right.

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✓ Favorite Catch Me If You Claus
(Countdown to Christmas • Italia Ricci and Luke Macfarlane • November 23, 2023)
LUKE MACFARLANE WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE HE IS THE SON OF SANTA CLAUS! A news station researcher longs to be a new anchor like her mom. She finally gets her chance when the current anchor gets sick. But when Santa's son Christopher Claus mis-delivers a gift meant for her neighbor... a night of chaos ensues. There's so much to this movie that I wouldn't even know where to begin. But at the heart of it all is Luke Macfarlane's hilariously masterful performance. He is able to be innocent, naive, and goofy while also being achingly sincere and honest so he doesn't come across as a complete moron. Despite a simple premise, this movie is surprisingly complex and wildly different from other Hallmark Christmas movies. If that wasn't enough, the Christmas corruption mystery was actually really good. Some real thought was put into writing the story, and it was an adorable joy to watch. I don't clamor for sequels very often, but I would love to see these characters again.

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✓ Okay Letters to Santa
(Countdown to Christmas • Katie Leclerc and Rafael de la Fuente • November 24, 2023)
If your movie features kids, they had better be incredible actors and not even a little bit annoying. Fortunately this flick does indeed have two adorably charming kids. But anyway... a couple is undergoing a separation and are well on their way to a divorce. But when their kids get a magic pen from Santa that seems to make wishes come true when they write letters to him, everything starts to change. Equally charming are the two adult leads, who could have easily made the characters beyond annoying, but manage to pull it off. The whole storybook deadline plot is a bit ham-fisted and could have used some work, but overall it was a film I didn't hate with performances I liked.

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✓ Good Holiday Road
(Countdown to Christmas • Sara Canning and Warren Christie • November 24, 2023)
Nine strangers are stuck at an airport due to weather cancelations. When one of them gets the last available vehicle... a van... they reluctantly band together to get to Colorado. They all have their various challengers and setbacks, which comes out as they chat with each other during their long road trip. It's surprisingly heartfelt and a decent watch. In particular the Chinese couple, whose end game makes the entire movie. Along the way they get fans of their trip thanks to a social media influencer among them who is journaling everything online. All in all, it's a pretty good flick that surprised me more than once.

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Christmas in Notting Hill
(Countdown to Christmas • Sarah Ramos and William Moseley • November 25, 2023)
At least they acknowledge that the meet-cute behind this film was stolen directly from the movie Notting Hill. But in reverse. kinda. Woman heads to London to spend the holidays with her younger sister. While there, she is run into by a mega-famous football (soccer) star who is recovering from a sports injury. Then in a WILD COINCIDENCE, her sister is marrying the football star's brother! IMAGINE THE ODDS! Anyway, this movie isn't that bad... but it doesn't really do anything special with the concept. I was generally bored with it. But there were some sweet moments and good atmosphere, and that ain't nothin'.

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✓ BAD! Haul Out the Holly: Lit Up
(Countdown to Christmas • Lacey Chabert and Wes Brown • November 25, 2023)
There is absolutely NOTHING in this movie that wasn't massively annoying. I ended up fast-forwarding through half of it because they took every situation to absurdly stupid extremes. I honestly don't know how anybody could find anything to do with this movie even remotely entertaining.

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Our Christmas Mural
(Countdown to Christmas • Alex Paxton-Beesley and Dan Jeannotte • November 26, 2023)
This movie starts out with the obligatory, tired sucking up trope "YOU'RE THE BEST (insert job) AT (insert town) WE HAVE EVER SEEN!" and then kinda spirals downhill from there. A woman (which is the best curator ever!) has her job on the chopping block so she heads home for the holidays... where her mom enters her in a town mural contest. She wins, of course, and then has to paint a mural she never intended to paint. But it's not easy because her and her young son are dealing with the trauma of her husband dying AND a local guy who bought all the green paint at the local art store! The nerve! But worlds collide when in addition to being a paint thief, he's also the second runner-up in the mural contest, the local art teacher for her son, AND happens to be a child therapist! Boy that'll come in handy. It feels so lazy to come up with needs for the story, then invent a character that neatly fits every aspect. There was a possibility that it would end up being wacky enough to work... but it really doesn't.

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✓ Favorite A Biltmore Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Bethany Joy Lenz and Kristoffer Polaha • November 26, 2023)
A professional writer is tasked with remaking an old black-and-white movie called His Merry Wife for modern audiences. Unfortunately, she "can't write what she doesn't believe" (eyeroll) so her boss sends her to the location for the original movie... Biltmore Manor... to inspire her. How he believes that will work I have no idea. If she's such a bad writer that she can only write what's "real" to her, then he should have just fired her incompetent ass. But anyway... the original movie was about a man who dies and comes back as an angel to help his wife discover love again (Holy Heaven Can Wait and Always, Batman!), with an ending the bad writer hates. After Jonathan Frakes(!) gives the bad writer a tour of Biltmore, she turns over a magical hourglass and =gasp= ENDS UP LITERALLY INSIDE THE PRODUCTION OF THE MOVIE!! Look, I appreciate any time that Hallmark tries to do something new, and this is certainly that... but anybody who's even remotely familiar with time travel tropes will have this movie pegged from the start. And yet that doesn't discount a clever story and a very good performance by Bethany Joy Lenz (AKA "Sandra Bullock" LOL!) which, along with the humor (largely assisted by A.K. Benninghofen, who has only been in four other shows, yet steals her scenes!), makes this one worth watching. Plus the movie-within-a-movie seems weirdly authentic, mostly thanks to Kristoffer Polaha (and a fantastic bit by Robert Picardo plus a couple others!). It's a surprisingly fun turn for Hallmark that hits more than it misses and was actually worth my valuable time to watch.

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✓ Favorite My Norwegian Holiday
(Countdown to Christmas • Rhiannon Fish and David Elsendoorn • December 1, 2023)
JAN MAAS IS IN A HALLMARK MOVIE! Except it's a movie called "My Norwegian Holiday?" YOU'RE NOT NORWEGIAN, JAN MAAS!!! So... not quite Ted Lasso, but seeing the actors in other projects is as close as we're going to get, I guess. But anyway... a guy is getting dumped in a coffee shop in Minnesota, which is made worse because he gives her the coffee order for a woman with the same name. After a clumsy run-in with this new woman, he ends up returning a paper to her at her substitute teaching gig. On her desk is a troll doll from the guy's home city of Bergen, Norway. He takes this as fate that she should take the ticket he bought for her name-twin to go home with him. She decided to take him up on it because she learns that her grandmother made a secret trip to Bergen she never knew about. But that's not the only mystery... as people end up taking the guy's photo wherever they go. This movie is genuinely sweet because the two leads are genuinely sweet. But it's the holiday traditions and scenery of Bergen that makes this a show to watch. PLUS THAT TWIST AT THE END! I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING! But really should have.

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A Not So Royal Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Brooke D'Orsay and Will Kemp • December 2, 2023)
A tabloid reporter for a rag inexplicably devoted exclusively to royal gossip wants a raise, so she sets out to get an interview with a reclusive Count of a small fictional Nordic country. She decides to lie and say she’s a reporter for a more reputable magazine devoted to royals to try and gain access. Little does she know that the guy she thinks is the Count is actually the seasonal landscaper there to decorate Christmas trees! OH THE HUMANITY! This movie wasn't bad. It wasn't good either. It's just kinda there as the characters blunder through a klutzy, staged romance that has a ridiculous ending. An ending which defies all logic and sense in order to tie everything up in a pretty Hallmark bow. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work on any level.

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Christmas with a Kiss
(Countdown to Christmas • Mishael Morgan and Ronnie Rowe Jr. • December 3, 2023)
HERE I AM BACK IN MY SMALL HONE TOWN FOR MY FAMILY'S CHRISTMAS CARNIVAL. OH LOOK, IT'S THE GUY I USED TO DATE IN HIGH SCHOOL! I DIDN'T KNOW HE WAS IN TOWN! HI OLD BOYFRIEND, YOU DON'T HAVE A FAMILY? YOU MUST BE SINGLE! HI OLD GIRLFRIEND, YOU DON'T HAVE A RING? YOU MUST BE SINGLE! LET'S FALL IN LOVE! BUT WAIT! ANOTHER MAN HAS ENTERED THE PICTURE! AND HE'S A BIG CITY REPORTER FROM NEW YORK, JUST LIKE I'M FROM NEW YORK! WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN NOW?!? Hallmark gets routinely, and rightfully, hammered over having one story that gets recycled over and over in their hundred's of movies. And this movie (under the Mahogany imprint) embraces that one story so completely that I kept waiting for it to end up being an ironic take on the material. But nope! No irony. Nothing new (insert record scratch)... EXCEPT... there's actually something new at the end? WTF??? I mean, it's not really enough to salvage the film for me, but at least they tried.

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Magic in Mistletoe
(Countdown to Christmas • Lyndie Greenwood and Paul Campbell • December 8, 2023)
I was looking forward to this one because Paul Campbell is a consistent Hallmark player who knows how to sell his characters. And boy does he try to sell this one. A reclusive, best-selling author of children's Christmas books... the Magic in Mistletoe series... tweets "THERE'S NO MAGIC IN MISTLETOE. CHRISTMAS IS A JOKE. IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY." right before the release of his sixth (and final) installment. It's then that his publicist shows up to do "damage control" which, shockingly and stupidly, is NOT to tell him to tweet out that his account was hacked... but instead to get him to show up to his hometown of Mistletoe for a book-signing event and appearances at the local Christmas celebrations. It's such an incredibly stupid premise as to be laughable, because it makes absolutely zero sense if you take two seconds to think about it. So, yeah, not even Paul Campbell can save this mess.

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Christmas on Cherry Lane
(Countdown to Christmas • Erin Cahill and John Brotherton • December 9, 2023)
Blergh. At first I thought that this was a sequel to other Hallmark movies... but then realized that no, it's not a sequel to the Christmas House flicks, it's just that Hallmark has so few films with gay characters that I was confusing this with the other Jonathan Bennet gay couple movies (it doesn't help that Catherine Bell and James Denton are also a couple that has been in another movie). But anyway... what this actually ends up being is a very specific plot device that has been done far, far better in other films and TV shows. On the surface, it's a story about three couples on Cherry Lane getting ready for Christmas. The retiring mom whose adult children don't like that she's getting remarried, retiring, and moving to Florida. The soon-to-be new parents who just moved to Cherry Lane and are facing some trials with their parents who showed up. And the gay couple who are hosting Christmas dinner, but have an unfinished kitchen and a surprise foster child sprung on them. Ultimately all of the stories are overwrought and ridiculous, and built around the afore-mentioned plot device that's the only interesting thing about the whole ordeal (and one which, if you're paying attention, is easy to see long before it's revealed). Unfortunately, it's not enough of an interesting device given how eye-rolling things end up being.

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✓ Favorite Round and Round
(Countdown to Christmas • Vic Michaelis and Bryan Greenberg • December 10, 2023)
The Hanukkah Hallmark Channel movie this year is the absolute best. It’s clever, smart, funny... and features 80’s music, geek culture, comic books, and a hefty nod to some time travel movies which came before (except the one that really matters, but we'll get to that). It’s like somebody wrote this one just for me! But anyway... a woman has a disastrous 7th night of Hanukkah... that keeps repeating. Just like in Groundhog Day, which they are quick to acknowledge in the story. And just like in that film, she has to figure out why she's stuck in a time loop and how she can get out of it. That alone would be worth watching, but they toss in a twist at the end which has you completely recontextualizing everything you've seen. I had to go back and see if I missed some clues. Turns out I really didn't, which was disappointing. The only way this could have been better would be to have made the twist apparent when you rewatched it. Then there's the fact that the twist is kinda-sorta from one of my all-time favorite time travel movies, which I can't mention because it will give it away. But blah blah blah. This is a fantastic film with stellar performances that are built around a great story. One of my favorite Hallmark movies ever.

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The Secret Gift of Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Meghan Ory and Christopher Russell • December 15, 2023)
Busy widower construction worker with a young daughter is too busy to shop for Christmas gifts for family and clients, so his nephew assistant hires a personal shopper to take care of everything. She is SO good that she can even get Taylor Swift tickets! No idea how this guy can afford the gifts she's buying, but what sinks this movie is not the lack of logic but how utterly weird and awkward the dialog and situations are. It's cringe from start to finish... almost to the point of being uncomfortable, even for a Hallmark movie! It would be different if it was trying to do something new or different while flailing, but it's just... flailing. From the guy droning on about his divorce to the worst karaoke you will ever witness, I couldn't wait for this mess to just stop.

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✓ Favorite Sealed with a List
(Countdown to Christmas • Katie Findlay and Evan Roderick • December 16, 2023)
The story is a watered-down version of a combination "Checking off goals on a list" and "Falling for your rich boss" movie. But it's so darn charming you just don't care. A woman who feels very stuck in life has a friend challenge her to change her life for the better. She makes a list of goals to do this, but lets it sit for most of the year. The opportunity arrives when she decides to take the blame for the spoiled do-nothing boss's son who took her promotion when a major mistake is made. This gets her fired as Christmas is rapidly approaching, so it's time to start working on that list! At the same time, her spoiled ex-box gets cut off from his family's money. So a deal is struck. HE will help her check off the items on her list to live a more exciting life. SHE will help him become self-sufficient so he can live on his own. So they start spending all their time together and... Hallmark happens. There's very little idiocy. There's no faux drama. They're two adults who act like adults. And the way they grow closer feels entirely earned. That doesn't happen often enough in these things.

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✓ Okay Friends & Family Christmas
(Countdown to Christmas • Humberly Gonzalez and Ali Liebert • December 17, 2023)
This year's one movie with lead characters that are a same-sex couple features lesbians... and it's not bad at all. Alas it's yet another one of those "let's pretend to be dating so that our parents and friends will get off our backs" kinda movies... but at least it's handled in a way that's not entirely stupid. The dialogue is lively and fun, which you'd expect since they aren't producing 50 movies about same-sex couples. They make one, so they pick the best one and get a cast who knows what they're doing. Taken on its own, this movie could have been better. But the fact that the diversity elevates it to something new makes it definitely worth a watch. If, for no other reason than it's unlike the 49 other movies released this year.


Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Originals 2023

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Ms. Christmas Comes to Town
(Miracles of Christmas • Erica Durance and Brennan Elliott • October 26, 2023)
The Home Shopping Network Christmas Queen is making her annual road trip to bring Christmas cheer to small town America. Unfortunately, it's also her last annual road trip, because she's retiring. Fortunately her longtime assistant is waiting in the wings to take over the job... along with a new employee who, coincidentally enough, used to date her. The resulting journey is filled with boring sales pitches for fictional merchandise coupled with a terrible secret. Unfortunately it doesn't make for very entertaining television.

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✓ Okay My Christmas Guide
(Miracles of Christmas • Erica Durance and Brennan Elliott • November 2, 2023)
I was pretty excited to get a completely new idea for a Christmas movie. A college professor (and widower) loses his eyesight and, thanks to his young daughter's insistence, ends up getting a guide dog. The dog's trainer is in a toxic relationship, so when she finds herself having feelings for him, you can pretty much guess where the movie is going. The problem is that it just feels so basic, flat, and by-the-numbers. The writer had a list of beats to hit as they walk you through the process of somebody getting a guide dog, and any romance feels very much tacked on. And, I get it, his experience of losing his sight and his training is where the story lays, I just wish it had more of a punch as everything unfolds. Oh well. The dog is really awesome.

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Mystery on Mistletoe Lane
(Miracles of Christmas • Erica Cerra and Victor Webster • November 9, 2023)
Look, nobody tunes into these movies expecting much... but is anybody at Hallmark... ANYBODY AT ALL... looking over these scripts? Woman becomes the new director of a historical society and moves to Boston with her two kids. And of course they have to whip out the same old tired crud of the door on her new house closing behind her. And then she goes to drive to work, but the movers just arrived, so she hands over the house keys, tells them to put the boxes where it makes the most sense, then walks to work because her car is blocked by the moving van in her narrow driveway. Which is stupid times one thousand, because the movers would have requested she move her car so they can... YOU KNOW... GET TO HER HOUSE! But they didn't even back into the driveway, so they're already walking around their van... why not a car as well? Then she gets a call that one of the movers tripped on a loose floorboard upstairs, revealing a hole in the wall. But when she gets home, she tells her new work colleague that they left ALL HER BOXES DOWNSTAIRS?!? Jesus. And of course there are boxes upstairs too, though how the movers knew which room belongs to which person is the REAL mystery. There's so much illogic going on in the first five minutes that it makes you wonder how they could possibly have the brain power to construct a good mystery. SPOILER ALERT: THEY DIDN'T. The "mystery" is non-eventful and relies on coincidence built around a flimsy plot device which ultimately means nothing.

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A World Record Christmas
(Miracles of Christmas • Nikki DeLoach and Lucas Bryant • November 16, 2023)
There's a lot of criticism you can lob at Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries when it comes to representation and inclusivity... but they do manage to do some very good things from time to time. A World Record Christmas is based on the true story of an autistic kid who builds Guinness World Record constructs out of Jenga blocks. And it gets better... they actually hired an excellent young actor with autism to play the part! Thank God they resisted the urge to pile on artificial drama too much, which is why the movie worked out as well as it did. Heartwarming and lacking the horrific condescending, demeaning attitude that these films usually have smeared all over them, this is a very good Christmas movie for Hallmark, and it's remarkable that it ended up that way.

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
✓ Okay A Season for Family
(Miracles of Christmas • Brendan Penny and Stacey Farber • November 22, 2023)
It's embarrassing how often Hallmark Channel movies decides that having an "assistant" shower the main character with praise makes for good exposition. It's always the same thing... "Oh boss, you're the bestest boss in the whole world! I have no idea how you do it! Having you as a boss if the best because you're the best at what you do! Nobody can do the job you do as well as you do! I pity the fool who doesn't have a boss that's the absolute best like you! You're my best friend AND my boss, because you're the best! Any guy would be lucky to have you, and I hope you have a great Christmas as you head back to your hometown where your first love still lives, because you're just the best thing ever!" — Or, in this case "Have a great Christmas as you take your first vacation ever, because you're the best and you deserve it!" — Good Lord. IT JUST ISN'T NECESSARY THAT THE CHARACTER BE SHOWERED WITH ORGASMIC AND UNREALISTIC PRAISE LIKE THIS... SO, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE JUST STOP!!! But anyway... the adopted son of a single mom wants nothing more than to find his long lost brother for Christmas. The single mom, wanting to make the wish come true, plans a vacation to Park City, Utah 1) Because her family is there, and 2) the brother was adopted to a family in Utah, and she contacts the adoption agency to contact the adopted family of the brother to see if they can meet. When they arrive, the boy becomes immediate best friends forever with the son of a struggling ski shop owner whose wife died two years ago. In short order, Single Mom and Widower Dad realize that their kids are actually brothers! But since Widower Dad hasn't told his son that he's adopted, DRAMA ENSUES! Fortunately the kid actors are both pretty good, so the movie is okay in my book.

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
Time for Her to Come Home for Christmas
(Miracles of Christmas • Shenae Grimes-Beech and Chris Carmack • November 30, 2023)
I'm going to preface this by saying that singer Grace Leer did a fantastic job in her acting debut. That being said, I wish they would have given her a better movie. You expect that the movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries will largely be cloying and manipulative since they tend to be more faith-based stories. But this one went to new levels and was all kinds of cringe. Shenae Grimes is a music teacher who is recruited by a small-town pastor and his wife to be the choir director at their church. She's carrying all kinds of baggage after the death of her mother and, since she has no family left, Christmas doesn't have the same meaning any more. So of course she makes a new family with the choir members as she whips them into shape, and all their various dramas come to the surface. And of course there's a big reveal and plot twist that is ridiculously handled and artificial. If I had to describe this movie, I'd say it's essentially a bad Sister Act remake without the nuns and humor. And if you thought the choir started out bad in that movie, this movie will blow you away with all-new lows. The difference being that Sister Act actually made you believe that the choir was learning how to sing... and had a story you actually cared about.

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
To All a Good Night
(Miracles of Christmas • Kimberley Sustad and Mark Ghanimé • December 7, 2023)
Yikes. You know you're in trouble when even Kimberley Sustad can't sell your dialogue. This is a bizarre movie that packs the tropes into a story that tries way too hard to manipulate you into its endgame... and doesn't succeed at all. Whenever I run into a movie that annoys me like this, I always run to see what other movies the author has written to see if it's a trend... or just an accident. In this case, I was shocked to see that they also penned one of my favorite movies this year... My Norwegian Holiday. So I don't know what's going on. Both movies have a SHOCKING TWIST that's anti-climactic, but this one just seemed far more artificial. But anyway... Kimberley Sustad is a small town photographer who saves the life of a motorcycle accident victim by calling for help. For whatever stupid reason, she refuses to let him take off his helmet. even though he could be dying under there? So when he recovers and goes looking for his "guardian angel," she hides that it was her because he's a land developer that she suspects is in town to buy her family's land. Or something. But... OH NOES! He has an even bigger secret! Nothing about this movie feels natural and organic. It's just a meandering mess that has no purpose except ending up where the ending happens to be.

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
✓ Okay Heaven Down Here
(Miracles of Christmas • Krystal Joy Brown and Tina Lifford • December 14, 2023)
This is one of those slice-of-life movies where they started with a singular idea then built a story around it. The story itself isn't bad, but it's based around a "surprise twist" that was neither a surprise nor really a twist. It was all broadcast from the very beginning and couldn't have possibly ended up any other way. Regardless, this movie about four people stuck in a diner on Christmas Eve because of a storm has some pretty good performances and was deftly handled by all involved. As the past comes out and charts the future for the characters, it feels very much paint-by-numbers but not necessarily in a bad way.

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
Miracle in Bethlehem, PA
(Miracles of Christmas • Laura Vandervoort and Benjamin Ayres • December 21, 2023)
HER NAME IS MARY(anne)! HIS NAME IS JOE(seph). HIS HOUSE IS LIKE A BARN! HE HAS A DOG NAMED "DONKEY!" THE NIGHTLIGHT SHE GETS FROM HIM IS SHAPED LIKE THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM! AND SHE IS STUCK IN BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA! GET IT? DO YOU GET IT? ARE YOU SEEING WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE? DO YOU UNDERSTAND? Of course you do. It wasn't exactly subtle. Single woman has been trying to adopt for a year. Finally, after completing the baby's room for a baby who may never come, she prays for a baby. Then. A MIRACLE! The couple who was supposed to adapt a baby decided to bail at the last minute! SHE ADOPTS A BABY FOR CHRISTMAS! But then... a terrible storm comes! And despite the fact that she was stupid to ever risk her new baby's life by trying to drive home in the first place, she finally gives up and goes to a local inn to wait out the storm. BUT THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE INN! DO YOU GET IT NOW? DO YOU HEAR THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF YOUR TELEVISION?!? THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE INN!!!!! So that's when the inn's owner puts her up at her brother's "barn." This painfully obvious parallel to the birth of Jesus feels like it should be offensive. But, eh, they don't go to far with it. And how can you be offended when they're tossing out Bible verses and talking about how much they love The Lord? But anyway... this is a mediocre flick with cringe dialogue and a silly hook that would have probably been worthless if not for Benjamin Ayres. He manages to play his character as kind, caring, and funny without being a wimpy joke. So, yeah, if you like your Hallmark movie to have a religious bent, this is probably the strongest one you're going to get this year without switching networks. Hopefully you like boring conversations about the tiresome characters droning on and on though.


Netflix 2023

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
Holiday at the Vineyards
(Josh Swickard and Sol Rodriguez • December 13, 2023)
This is a LITERAL RETREAD OF 2020's A CALIFORNIA CHRISTMAS! SAME ACTOR. PRACTICALLY THE SAME STORY. THE GUY EVEN HAS THE SAME RINGTONE! For shame. FOR SHAME, NETFLIX!! As it is, this would be a good film if not for A California Christmas, which was first... and better.


Other 2023

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
Love Is In The Air
(Delta Goodrem and Joshua Sasse • September 28, 2023)
As a huge fan of Joshua Sasse who misses him after No Tomorrow was cancelled, I look forward to everything he does. But then he can't seem to find good projects. It's a real shame. This one is another near-disappointment. Woman is a pilot at a struggling NorthEast Australian air company that was founded by her parents. Meanwhile in London, a guy is charged by his father to visit the airline, then get the information they need to shut it down. But of course he falls in love with the airline... and the hot lady pilot. The film has some gorgeous scenery shot on location, which is really the only reason to watch it. Joshua Sasse is completely wasted here, and the story is a retread of far better films... that just happens to be shot in somewhere pretty.


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