Advent Day #21: The Holiday Calendar

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The Holiday Calendar is Netflix’s lesser known new holiday movie for 2018. It plays a third fiddle to The Christmas Chronicles and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding. As a matter of fact, it took me awhile to even find the movie in Netflix’s menu system. I almost had to do a title search for it, which is a terrible way to advertise your new shows.

Kat Graham plays Abby, a struggling photographer. (I’m not really sure why she’s “struggling.” She has a job taking pictures.) Abby’s best friend, Josh (Quincy Brown), has been traveling the world as a travel photographer and now he’s moving back home. During some time with her family, Abby’s grandfather (Ron Cephas Jones) gives Abby an antique advent calendar that used to be her grandmother’s. Every day, a new door on the calendar magically opens, giving her a small toy. Amazingly, the toys seem to be telling her future for that particular day. Abby follows the clues, thinking it is leading her to the handsome doctor, Ty (Ethan Peck), as a love interest. But Abby’s fate lies in another direction.

I’ve been a bit of a fan of Kat Graham’s acting since she was on the CW series, The Vampire Diaries. Unfortunately, Calendar doesn’t really give her anything to work with. Her character is literally led around the plot and still manages to get everything wrong. The photography thing is supposed to be super important but doesn’t feel like it. Abby talks about wanting to open her own studio and how much she loves photography. Yet she doesn’t do anything to work on making her art better or trying to network. She gets a job photographing the mayor’s family only because her boss and her sister put her in positions to get noticed. Abby doesn’t do anything on her own to make her dreams happen. Life just happens to her. And that is boring.

It’s sad that Calendar had a great premise but was so badly executed. I would love to see a movie with a magical advent calendar with a protagonist that actually did something. What we have been given is nothing but a boring waste of time and talent.

Advent Day #20: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

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Last year, Netflix’s A Christmas Prince was a surprising hit. The story of a blogger/journalist sneaking into the palace of a foreign country then falling in love with the royal heir was…well, it was kinda charming. Weird but kinda charming. Netflix decided to capitalize on that popularity and released the sequel, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, this year. It’s not as good.

A year has passed since we last saw Amber (Rose McIver) and Richard (Ben Lamb). They have been traveling back and forth between New York and Aldovia. (From what I can tell, the only reason Amber didn’t move to Aldovia is because she wanted to be her own person? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes an even worse montage.) Now it’s time for Amber to begin (?) planning her Christmas wedding. But there is trouble in Aldovia! The finances of the kingdom are a mess and no one knows why. Plus Queen Helena (Alice Krige) keeps putting pressure on Amber to keep her wedding traditional.

Ugh. I can’t even type out this description without cringing. I’ll admit that I was charmed by the first movie, even though it had tons of problems. This one makes less sense. Like, why would Amber choose to continually travel around the world for a long-distance engagement? She’s a blogger. She can literally do that job anywhere. Sure, the writers are pushing the father-daughter relationship this time around but at no point do they mention that is why she stayed in New York. And I can’t imagine any royal family not wanting to keep someone like Amber close to try to teach her the duties of the queen. Also, Queen Amber makes me laugh. Can you imagine living somewhere where your royalty is named Amber?

Then we get into the actual story. There are two big conflicts going on - Amber being forced to have this awful wedding planner plan her wedding (by the way, who waits until a couple weeks BEFORE the wedding to plan it?!) and the financial trouble of the kingdom. (The writers are very careful to call it a kingdom and not a country.) Of course, both are solved when Amber decides to investigate the financial trouble on her own. Well, with her two BFFs, anyway. Amber solves all the problems, marries her prince, and lives happily ever after, I guess?

The sequel absolutely drained all of the charm out of the first movie. Even Richard’s little sister, Emily (Honor Kneafsey), is reduced to a boring side player. She has the opportunity to get a cute little side story about first love but it gets buried under the financial issue. Oh, and suddenly she’s some sort of terrible hacker? She says she can hack into a database but ends up doing it by accident? Poor Emily would have been better if the royals just sent her off to boarding school so she didn’t have to suffer through all of this.

This is another one of those movies that isn’t so terrible that you want to throw your remote through the television. It’s just a boring waste of time. Please tell me they aren’t going to have a Royal Baby movie next year.

Advent Day #19: Hometown Christmas

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As a pagan, I have been fairly comfortable with the amount of Christianity in these Christmas romance movies. While they’ve all revolved around the holiday season, none of them have actually gone into the religion around it. I guess there is a first time for everything.

Hometown Christmas is about Noelle (Beverley Mitchell) moving home to Louisiana from Chicago. She decides to bring back her late mother’s tradition of a live nativity on Christmas. Add in a former boyfriend from high school and that is the entire plot of the movie.

I don’t want to rag on the religious aspect of the movie, even though it is very heavy handed. Unfortunately, that is all there is here. The ‘conflict’ between Noelle and her ex-boyfriend, Nick (Stephen Colletti), feels forced. He’s not mad at her but she is mad at him for no real reason. And her anger doesn’t feel real. It all feels fake, which is terrible for a movie that is desperately trying to push the Christian story. The conflict is fake, the whole purpose of the nativity feels empty, even Noelle’s brother’s relationship doesn’t feel real. It literally feels like this is a group of people reading a script that was just handed to them. It would probably be more believable if they were standing around reading scripts!

Sadly, there isn’t anything good here. The nativity scene ends with Noelle singing “O Holy Night,” but Mitchell is a TERRIBLE singer. Please, stay far away from Hometown. You’ll thank me for saving you two hours.

Advent Day #18: A Gingerbread Romance

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OMG. Another movie with a baker? But this time the baker is a MAN?! What is the world coming to?

So. In A Gingerbread Romance, Tia Mowry-Hardrict plays Taylor, an architect who is given an assignment to participate in a life-sized gingerbread house contest. Taylor gets Adam (Duane Henry), a local baker, to be her partner. Along with his daughter, Brooke (Melody Nosipho Niemann), Adam teaches Taylor the ways of Christmas.

I am going to give the movie props for making the male lead the baker and the female lead the architect. (Yeah, we’ve already seen a female architect this season in A Majestic Christmas. Maybe it’s a new trope.) However, I have one giant problem with Gingerbread. I’m not sure if Mowry-Hardrict is uncomfortable with her mom bod or the director was trying to hide her second pregnancy (I’m not sure when the movie was filmed but she gave birth on May 5, 2018) but she spends the entire movie in either a cardigan, a jacket, or one giant sweater. (Yes, she has one giant sweater she wears without the jacket or cardigan. Everything else is covered up.) It was a little distracting to see everyone else wearing typical winter indoor wear and she has on a trenchcoat. As a matter of fact, it is what ruined the movie for me. It made it feel like there was some sort of judgement toward larger people. Which is annoying because she is absolutely not fat!

The rest of the movie was pretty bland. Taylor kept going on about how she travels so much and how she is an ARCHITECT so, therefore, she knows what she is talking about. And Adam repeatedly talks about how he wants to own his own bakery but the investors wouldn’t back him because he dropped out of culinary school. (I don’t think that’s how it works?) I suppose it’s awesome how Taylor includes Adam’s daughter in the project but it somehow feels contrary to her character. It’s more Tia and less Taylor.

If you are a fan of Tia Mowry-Hardrict, it isn’t a terrible watch. Just don’t expect an epic romance or even a decent story. It’s just meh.

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 #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.