Advent Day #17: Christmas Pen Pals

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Aha! A Christmas movie with an interesting take on romantic matchmaking! I’m really glad to finally have a movie that isn’t the same old tired formula.

Hannah (Sarah Drew) is one of the founding members of the dating app, Perfect One. However, the company begins to tank right a few weeks before Christmas. In order to find a solution to her problem, Hannah heads home to celebrate the holidays with her family. Once there, she finds out that the town is pulling out an old tradition where people sign up to get matched with a secret pen pal. In order to get her widowed father back in the dating game, Hannah agrees to sign up as well. Will she meet her soulmate?

We’ve already seen movies where the leading woman runs a dating app. (Hi, Mingle All The Way.) This time around, the plot doesn’t revolve around the app so much. It’s basically a device to show that Hannah is super techy and she doesn’t do ‘normal’ things like writing letters. But once we establish that the town doesn’t do things like wifi or grande lattes with all of the syrup squirts, the tech thing is pretty much thrown to the wayside. There are a few calls between Hannah and her business partner but that’s about it.

The interesting thing about the movie is how the writers go about connecting Hannah with her pen pal. We only see them trade a few letters but they are very open with each other right from the beginning. Of course, her pen pal/true love turns out to be her high school ex-boyfriend, Sam (Niall Matter). That isn’t really the important part though. It’s her journey to reconnect with him and how sweetly he treats her, even though he doesn’t know it’s actually her… OK, the plot falls apart a little bit. I mean, he does send her on a scavenger hunt for some earrings before he knows who he is matched with but, whatever, it’s TRUE LOVE.

It was definitely a cute movie. I did spend way too much time trying to figure out who he dad was (he’s Michael Gross from the 80s show Family Ties)…that’s just my own senility rearing it’s ugly head. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It was an interesting take on ‘how to update online dating.’

Advent Day #16: Entertaining Christmas

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I swear that Hallmark and Lifetime know the plots for all of each other’s shows so they can air similar premises around the same time. Lifetime showed Christmas Around The Corner, Hallmark replied with Entertaining Christmas. The characters may not be the same but the general premise is.

Jodie Sweeten plays Candace Livingston, daughter of famed domestic goddess Liz Livingston (Jane Moffat). While Liz can cook anything perfectly, Candace is better at the background stuff. When Liz announces her retirement from her company, everyone assumes Candace would be her replacement. In order to prove her worth to the company’s board of directors, Candace visits a family that requested Liz’s help throwing a party for her father’s return from deployment. Can she pull it off or will she be exposed as the regular woman she is?

Entertaining Christmas is another movie where the female lead doesn’t really know what she wants out of life. She knows what is expected of her and she tries to live up to it but fails. And I am down for a good ‘finding yourself’ story. My only issue with the plot is the romantic story that gets tossed in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against romance. And I understand that all of these Christmas movies revolve around holiday romance. However, it would be nice to see a strong woman finding her way in life without needing a relationship to make her whole. I mean, just as Candace is coming to terms with her less-than-perfection, in jumps John (Brendan Fehr) with lips to smooch. Can’t we let a girl be OK with being herself before we hook her up with a guy?

As I have said before in this series of reviews, this isn’t the most terrible movie I have watched. I mean, it was definitely better than her TV-sister’s movie, A Shoe Addict’s Christmas. At least here I could sympathize with the main character. It would just be nice to see her only be friends with the male lead instead of jumping into his arms. Learn to love yourself first, ladies!

Advent Day #15: Christmas Around The Corner

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When Christmas Around The Corner began, I thought we were going to be in trouble. I mean, the main character is a Wall Street exec, Claire (Alexandra Breckenridge), who failed to get an online pedicure company (wait, what?) on NASDAQ. Oh, and the online pedicure company was named Mistle-Toes. Let’s just say it didn’t scream ‘This is an awesome movie!’

Things pick up a little when Claire runs away to Vermont for a month to escape her failure. She stays at a weird little B&B that her mom loved, where the guests get to manage the bookstore downstairs during their stay. I’m not sure how many people would want to work during their vacation but I’ll suspend disbelief for this. The bookstore is owned by Andrew (Jamie Spilchuk), who inherited it but he would rather be a full-time blacksmith. (I guess this goes with the ‘Men Who Want To Make Things From Wood’ trope.)

Due to a recent flood, the town council has decided to cancel this year’s Christmas festivities. Of course, the Christmas celebration was the entire reason Claire was coming. Since Claire is now managing the bookstore, she makes it her mission to bring Christmas back to Main Street.

To be honest, Corner was a bit of a refreshment from the usual Christmas romance movies. Usually, one of the leads is the Christmas Scrooge and the other has to cajole them into the spirit. This time around, Claire is just kinda lost in life. She spends a ton of time on her fancy schmancy New York City job and doesn’t have time for herself. In Vermont, she gets to spend time doing things she’s good at and with people she enjoys talking to. The romantic thing is kinda tossed in there as a last minute thought. They could have taken that out and it would have been a perfectly fine ‘getting to know yourself’ type of movie. It was a nice little palate cleanser from the movies that seem to want to ruin Christmas.

Advent Day #14: The Princess Switch

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I ran out of new Hallmark and Lifetime movies so I flipped over to Netflix to give The Princess Switch a try. The Christmas Chronicles was pretty good. Hopefully this won’t disappoint either.

Switch is basically the story of The Prince and The Pauper with a few modern twists. Stacy DeNovo (Vanessa Hudgens) is a baker from Chicago. (Baker - another popular profession in Christmas movies) After a recent break up, her assistant and best friend, Kevin (Nick Sagar) signs her up to compete in a baking competition in Belgravia. Reluctantly, Stacy agrees to participate and the two travel to Belgravia with Kevin’s daughter, Olivia (Alexa Adeosun).

Also in Belgravia is Margaret Delacourt (also Hudgens), Duchess of Montenaro. Margaret is engaged to Belgravia’s Prince Edward (Sam Palladio) but she longs to see what life outside royalty is like. So Margaret convinces Stacy to switch places with her. Of course, Stacy falls in love with Edward and Margaret falls in love with Kevin.

If you are familiar with The Prince and The Pauper, there won’t be any big surprises here. It is the same story but with a female lead. One of things I really liked about the movie is that Kevin’s daughter, Olivia, knew almost immediately that it was not Stacy when she came downstairs on her first Belgravian morning. It gave Margaret a little help on her side (Stacy had Margaret’s assistant, Mrs. Donatelli (Suanne Braun) to help her) and it showed that not everyone in these movies is stupid. Just a nice little change of pace.

While I didn’t mind the big ending, I was a little disappointed that we don’t get to find out what Stacy did with her professional life. (Spoiler ahead, if you don’t want to know the obvious ending to the movie!!) In the beginning of the movie, Stacy was running a fairly successful bakery in Chicago. However, when the movie fast forwards a year to the Stacy/Edward wedding, they don’t tell us what happened with her business. Did she open a branch in Belgravia, like Edward suggested? Did she teach Margaret how to bake so the Duchess could take over the bakery? Did she just leave it all to Kevin? This was a rather large part of who she is…I mean, she literally came to Belgravia for a baking competition…and they don’t even acknowledge it. Maybe they are leaving it open for a sequel. That would be a little annoying but maybe it would be good? I guess I’ll have to watch this year’s sequel to last year’s big Netflix Christmas movie, A Christmas Prince (which had a cameo in this movie!), to see how they handle Christmas sequels. Until then, this isn’t a terrible way to spend roughly two hours. As long as you don’t have anything against princes and doppelgangers, anyway.

Advent Day #13: A Christmas In Tennessee

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OMG. A Christmas In Tennessee is everything that Welcome To Christmas wanted to be. It is almost exactly the same premise but a million times better.

Matthew (Andrew W. Walker) is a consultant for a real estate developer who rolls into White Pines, Tennessee to try to get the townspeople to sell their property so they can put a ski resort there. Allison (Rachel Boston), a single mom, owns the local bakery. She is also one of two descendants of the town founders. Matthew only needs one of them to sign the contract but will they?

Tennessee also has a couple of subplots going on. One involves Allison’s daughter, Olivia (Kate Moyer), wishing the bakery made more money. Santa and Mrs. Claus order a ton of cookies. When Olivia’s tale of Santa’s favorite cookies goes viral, the bakery is busier than ever. A second subplot involves Allison’s mother, Martha (Patricia Richardson), resuming her life after the death of her husband. She is the musical director at the local church but she doesn’t want to sing anymore. And there’s a bit of a love story between Martha and the town mayor.

Unlike Welcome to Christmas, this movie is packed with personality. The only character that gets sidestepped a bit is Matthew’s evil assistant, who doesn’t even get a credit on the show’s IMDB page. (I even forget her name…Rebecca, maybe?) While I didn’t want her to be more involved, she is the cause of the big problem at the end of the movie and we never see her getting her comeuppance. I mean, the lady literally forges a signature. It would have been nice to see her get arrested or something.

I found myself actually charmed by Tennessee. Considering a groaned inwardly when I saw that this was another real estate movie (does big-Christmas-television think that this is an interesting concept? Because it isn’t.). Thankfully, the casting director hired some amazing actors that were able to bring this all together. You’ll definitely enjoy Caroline Rhea as Mrs. Claus. Whoever decided to cast her needs a raise!

Advent Day #12: Welcome to Christmas

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Well, I now have proof that the Hallmark Channel is capable of showing craptastic movies. I honestly thought that I had it all wrong and that Lifetime was the sole culprit in my hatred of Christmas romance movies. Thanks for setting my straight, Hallmark.

Madison (Jennifer Finnigan) is a real estate developer tasked to find a location for her company’s new ski resort. She prefers Mountain Park, Colorado while her rival co-worker is pushing for Christmas, Colorado. Their boss sends Madison to Christmas to check the place out herself.

OK. I admit that I stopped paying attention to this movie about 15 minutes in. It is absolutely terrible. I tried really hard to make myself watch it but I failed miserably. The characters are so bland that I had a difficult time keeping track of who was whom. Add to that the terrible writing. Nothing happened to make me care for the characters or the town or anything on the screen. There wasn’t anything particularly special about Christmas that differentiated it from any other small town. Even Madison’s ‘big’ emotional change from ‘cold corporate bitch’ to ‘small town girl’ was boring.

Seriously, stay away from this movie. I wish there was a way for me to get the ~90 back that it stole from my life.

Advent Day #11: Santa's Boots

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Yes, this movie is called Santa’s Boots. It’s a title that doesn’t make sense until pretty much the end of the movie. Yes, I agree that it’s a dumb title. But let’s try to look past it.

When Holly (Megan Hilty) is forced to take a vacation from her job in Seattle, she heads home to celebrate the holidays with her family. Tired of putting up with her overly critical mother, Holly heads over to the family’s department store to hide. However, she ends up getting wrangled into being an elf for the store’s Santa, who happens to be a young, hot guy named Nick (Noah Mills). Of course, they fall in love.

“Wait, that synopsis didn’t say anything about boots!” You’re right. That is because the boots are an extremely small part of the story. Holly falls in love with Nick, Nick’s uncle falls ill, and Nick kinda ghosts everyone to spend time with his uncle in the hospital. Nick had left his well-loved boots at the department store to get repaired right before the aforementioned uncle issue. Since Holly doesn’t know how to find Nick (other than calling back the Santa temp agency guy when their first call was lost), she decides to pull a ‘Cinderella’ and have a ton of strange men try on Nick’s boots until she finds him. So, see? Nick is the store’s Santa and Holly uses his boots to try to find him. Hilarious, right? I didn’t think so either.

The rest of the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Like so many of the women in these movies, Holly hides the fact that her family owns the store. I’m not sure why anyone would care that she’s the boss’s daughter. She’s still dressed like a freaking elf. And, even though Holly and Nick hit it off, neither of them bother to exchange contact information. Holly does call the Santa temp agency, run by Nick’s friend Rob (Matt Hamilton). Rob loses cell reception in the hospital but at no point does Holly try to call him back. Or send the card to Rob’s company that she talked about. There are so many other ways Holly could have tried to find Nick. If I was Nick, I would have been pissed that she had all of these men trying on my shoes that I just got repaired. But this is a Lifetime movie, of course. And in the Lifetime universe, this is cute.

Do I recommend this movie? Not really. It was so boring. The best thing about the movie was Patricia Issac’s singing. I’m not sure it’s worth sitting through the entire movie for a few snippets of Christmas music. Especially when there are better movies out there.

Advent Day #10: Homegrown Christmas

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Another staple of holiday romance movies is “women who chose careers over family and are now miserable.” That is the basic premise of this movie. It’s probably my least favorite of the storylines.

Maddie (Lori Loughlin) has sold her popular shoe company. Now that she doesn’t have anything to do, she goes home to celebrate the holidays with her family, who happens to own a wood-working company that makes furniture. Her high school sweetheart, Carter (Victor Webster), works for the family company. Even though they are barely on speaking terms, Maddie and Carter have to work together to plan the high school’s winter dance.

I have issues with this movie. They aren’t giant issues but they are there. A lot of the “tension” in the movie is a result of two things: Carter didn’t move to New York with Maddie and Maddie didn’t stay in Claremont with Carter. The two of them harbor so much resentment over the fact that their high school relationship didn’t continue after graduation. I don’t think they state how old the characters are supposed to be but Lori Loughlin is 54 years old and Victor Webster is 45 years old. That is an awful long time to hold onto an ex. I can get into a “They were The One” plot as much as anyone but it just doesn’t work well here.

Also, Maddie frequently tells Carter how talented his woodwoorking is and how he should have his own business. Carter isn’t interested in owning a business and he’s not convinced that anyone would buy his work. Well, one - not everyone would be a good business owner. Just because he is good at making things doesn’t mean he would be good at selling it or keeping the books or any of the other things required to be a business-owner. Two - Carter makes the furniture for the family business! It may not be super creative like the wooden ornaments or miniature houses he made but they are the entirety of the family’s business and it is doing well enough that Maddie’s dad had retired before he passed away and now her mom is retiring. Most business-owners don’t get to do that!

If you can look past some of the problems in the movie, it’s not completely terrible to watch. It is more of a ‘turn on in the background for noise’ rather than a movie you can actually enjoy. I guess this is the first real dud for the Hallmark Channel.

Advent Day #9: Christmas Lost and Found

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Have we actually moved into a land of good Lifetime movies? It’s a little difficult to believe but these past few movies haven’t been too terrible. Christmas Lost and Found seems to follow the current trend of decent Lifetime Christmas movies.

In Lost and Found, Whitney (Tiya Sircar) is an event planner who lives in New York but came to her hometown of Chicago to visit her grandmother, Frances (Diane Ladd). Frances gives Whitney all of the Christmas ornaments they had collected over the years but Whitney accidentally throws them away while cleaning. A mysterious letter shows up sending Whitney and Frances’s neighbor, Brian (Edward Ruttle), on a scavenger hunt around town to find the lost ornaments.

When I saw that Tiya Sircar from The Good Place was the lead actress here, I was hopeful that this would be a good movie. I like quite like her. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. To be honest, the only thing I didn’t really like about the movie was the lack of focus on the actual scavenger hunt. Instead of making the entire movie about that, the writers gave Whitney a job (planning a party and designing a Christmas window for a local department store) that divided her time. While that was nice in itself, it took away from the importance of finding the ornaments. Whitney would frequently just put the next clue in her handbag instead of reading it right away because she had to run off to a meeting or something for the store. I think I would have liked it better if it was just a fun-filled frantic romp around town.

My recommendation? Give it a go. If anything, you’ll come to love Sircar just as much as I do. And that is always a good thing.

Advent Day #8: The Christmas Pact

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Finally! A Christmas movie on Lifetime that doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out! Actually, this one was pretty darn cute. I did start out hoping this movie was some sort of sequel to A Different World (for those of you that don’t know, The Cosby Show had a spin-off and it was awesome and it was called A Different World) but it wasn’t. Sad times.

No, A Christmas Pact is the story of the lifelong friendship between Sadie (Kyla Pratt) and Ben (Jarod Joseph). When the movie starts, the pair are eight year old kids. The two of them plant a small Christmas tree in the backyard of their church. Then they make a pact that they will return to that spot every Christmas to keep the magic of Christmas alive. And they mostly follow through, until they grow up and Sadie becomes a professional photographer who travels the world. But Ben always shows up. Eventually, Sadie comes back home and the pact resumes. Everyone else can see that they are in love but will they ever realize it?

Now why did I think this may be A Different World sequel? Because Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison play Sadie’s parents and they were the on-again/off-again couple, Whitney and Dwayne, in the series. While my heart was a little broken that they were playing different characters, I did enjoy seeing them together again. They definitely play a great couple.

As for the movie itself, I found myself actually liking it a lot. I thought that the characters stayed true to their friendship the entire time. Granted, it did seem that they didn’t keep in touch very often when they weren’t on-screen. They could have easily called each other or written letters or whatever but I think most of the ‘out-of-touchness’ was for the benefit of the audience so we knew what was going on in their lives. It was strange but not completely out of the realm of possibility. And, really, it didn’t matter that much. We were here to watch them change as they grew to see if they would grow together or apart. (OK, well, we knew it wasn’t going to be apart…it would be a terrible movie, otherwise.)

I think that is why Pact was so different from other movies. Most Christmas rom-coms need some sort of fabricated conflict to throw two adults into a relationship. This time around, we got to see a relationship turn from friendship into romance. And it was adorable.