Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas on TV: ABC Family style

I know, I know. Christmas is over. And it's been weeks since I posted a made-for-TV holiday movie review. But there was a little thing called Finals Week, followed by a littler thing called Post-Finals Week which led up to actual Christmas. But you'll be happy to know, I didn't forget you, faithful readers. I'm back.

Today's post (tonight's? it's almost three in the morning as I'm writing this) spotlights the best and worst of the movies made by ABC Family. (Channel tagline: A New Kind of Family. Does anyone know what they mean by that? I sure don't.)

This year's fare was actually quite satisfactory because they followed the tried-and-true formula of picking attractive, well-known, but still B-listed actors to portray virtually flawless male leads opposite women that you hate not just because you want to be them but because they're actually annoying.

Case-in-point: Desperately Seeking Santa stars That One Guy from That One Show with Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth, commonly referred to as What I Like about You. And if you're like me, what you like about that show is That One Guy, legally referred to as Nick Zano. (Vince, if you're still lost. And if even that doesn't help, just see the picture below.)

The premise of the movie is gag-able, so I won't apologize for it. A shopping mall in a low-income area of Boston replaces the traditional Santa by holding a talent search for "Sexy Santa." Of course, Nick Zano enters to earn the attached $10,000, wins, and then has to have desperate housewives sit on his lap all December long while wearing a Santa suit and no shirt. Don't ask who approved this.

In Desperately Seeking Santa, Nick plays a character with these flawless qualities: he's trying to save his family's Italian restaurant (think Return to Me knockoff), he's saving for med school and is a licensed EMT, he's good with kids, he can dance (well, he tries), he's nice and sweet, and, oh yeah, he looks like Nick Zano. His counterpart is one of those corporate ladder-climbing type ladies too blind to see that her boyfriend is not worth her time and doesn't like her for who she is. You won't like her, but you aren't watching because of her.

Best scene: Let's just say I'm adding "private carousel ride" to my list of romantic kiss locales.
If you liked it: Check out Nick Zano in Everything You Want, another made-for-TV holiday movie with a major B-list cast: Eric Matthews from Boy Meets World, Darcy from the pink Pride and Prejudice, K.C. Clyde of The Best Two Years and A Golden Christmas 2. But be warned: this movie is about a girl who literally dates her imaginary boyfriend.

Of course, in the world of B-listed actors with major fan bases, you can't get much bigger than Mark-Paul Gosselaar, aka Zack Morris of Saved by the Bell. And if you didn't know that already, shame on you. He's the male star of ABC Family's second attempt at made-for-TV magic this season, The 12 Dates of Christmas.

The premise of this one is basically just a Groundhog Day reboot with one down-on-her-luck career girl reliving Christmas Eve twelve times in a row, including her blind date with Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The only thing I couldn't figure out was why she was complaining about repeatedly going out with Zack Morris. Next time I have the chance to go on the same date with him twelve times in order to get it perfect . . . Sign. Me. Up.

In fact, Mark (or is it Mark-Paul? That sounds like a brand of sunglasses) is the best part of this one, since he's the perfect first date and you automatically feel for him since they've written him as a widower. (Wise move. Who would believe that he's still single? And if he were divorced, I'd be so mad that he walked out on Kelly Kapowski. So. Mad.) And he's a landscape architect. And a hockey player/hockey coach to underprivileged kids. So what if it's not realistic. It's made-for-TV.

Amy Smart is actually a much more tolerable female lead than the actress in Desperately Seeking Santa. The major failings of 12 Dates are that it fails to make the conventions of how she gets back into Christmas Eve less predictable and formulaic like Groundhog Day. I was so sick by the end of the movie of her falling asleep watching the home shopping network and waking up on the floor of a department store.

Best scene: No amazing ones here, but it did make me wish I'd been able to go on that ice skating date this summer.
If you liked it: Check out some Saved by the Bell DVDs from your local library. Or find the reruns on TBS.

These two are only this year's offerings. Along with Hallmark Channel and Lifetime, they're the biggest contributors to this genre, so they have plenty from years past. Of those, I've ranked them and given you a quick blurb, but if you're anything like me. You won't be able to just take someone else's word for it, even on the Stay-Aways. You'll want to suffer through every painful minute until you just can't take it anymore.


Holiday in Handcuffs: I actually don't think this movie is all that great as a made-for-TV Christmas movie, but I just love the concept of Sabrina the Teenage Witch kidnapping A.C. Slater for the holidays. And forget the creepy-weird Stolkholm Syndrome Mario Lopez experiences. Just watch it because you know you want to. I won't tell.


Christmas in Boston: Long-time pen pals discover that they'll finally be in the same city and decide to meet--except they each sent pictures of their best friend. You can surely see what's coming, but this is a great opportunity to see Gia from Full House (don't even attempt to watch her in The Gift of the Magi, even though it has the guy from Nickelodeon's Snow Day) and that blonde super spy chick from The Famous Jett Jackson and assure yourself that they're not entirely starving actors just yet.

Snow and Snow 2: Brain Freeze: Once again a version of Santa Claus leaves the North Pole and finds true love, this time chasing a stray reindeer to a zoo and falling for a zookeeper who, the following year, must save Christmas when Santa gets amnesia. As with most franchises, the original is better than the sequel, but Tom Cavanaugh fans should really just watch Hallmark Channel's Trading Christmas to get their Ed fix.

Santa Baby and Santa Baby 2: No, you're not experiencing dejavu. And you don't have an amnesia-like brain freeze. ABC Family did, in fact, make two Christmas movie series that are exactly the same except one stars a man and one stars a woman. The Santa Baby movies are basically Santa's daughter trying to decide if she wants to join the family business and stick to her roots. Even Jenny McCarthy can't make this right, and once again, avoid the sequel since her boyfriend changes from That Cute Guy who was on Crossing Jordan to Some Guy You've Never Seen Before. And as a note to all made-for-TV Christmas writers, if the conniving elves didn't work in The Santa Clause 2 and 3, why would they work on television?

Christmas Cupid: Christina Milian gets the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past treatment on the small screen so she can end up with Chad Michael Murray. At least, I think she ends up with him. I never made it to the end. Just watch the Tristan episodes of Gilmore Girls if you need a CMM fix. This one is just a no.

Snowglobe: Christina Milian gets trapped inside a snowglobe. Double no.

And I love how this picture captures the substance of two equally bad made-for-TV Christmas movies with one image. Christmas Cupid in a Snowglobe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gifts and Giving, Mistletoe Style

I don't think I've kept it exactly a secret on here that I'm still anticipating my first kiss. And lately I've been contemplating that first kiss as if it were a tangible item, something that can be wrapped up in a box and handed over to me. Like someone owns it and just refuses to hand it over.

Maybe it all stems from one too many listens to the Justin Bieber Christmas album and its inordinate number of references to mistletoe and all related activities, but I don't think I can blame it all on the Biebs.

I'm past thinking there's something wrong with me, imagining that I'm just fundamentally unattractive to men, even men who are supposedly my type. You know, college students of similar moral fiber and religious affiliation, experiencing the same phase of life that I am and harboring similar desires for the next.

But they haven't noticed me, and I'm leaving in a few months.

I don't didn't want to be one of those girls who believes that Mormon love can only be found in P-town or Iceburg. But I'm staring in the face of evidence that says I am. Sleepless nights. Conflicting desires.

Like any normal college student anticipating graduation, I'm starting to look for employment in the near future. My chosen career path means big city adventure, a prospect which excites me and actually seems fairly probable from my preliminary searching. I'm going to be in a place that many Mormon women don't get to be in. I'm getting a degree, and I'm going to use it. And just to be clear, I like that.

How amazing is it that in six months I could be interning as an editor for Smithsonian Magazine, in a city and at an institution I've wanted to work for since I saw a TV special about this museum of museums when I was six years old? Or copyediting and proofreading DC Comics in the metropolis of New York City? Or writing and editing a variety of content for an online women's magazine based in the city by the bay, a song that a favorite band of mine promises could "save me"?

Why should I not be excited for that?

I'll tell you why. Because I can't shake the feeling that taking a job like that in a city with a limited Mormon dating pool is a death knell for all possibility of me ever getting that kiss. Even just one.

So for all nine of you out there reading this, all I want for Christmas from you is for you to tell me I'm crazy and remind me that my prospects for romance are only going to improve once I leave my small-fish-in-a-big-pond status behind for a big-fish-in-a-small-pond one. After all, isn't it a basic rule of most romcoms that successful, big-city career girls find true love because of that life situation, not in spite of it? I should know. I've watched plenty of them. I happen to be the variety of girl who needs validation and reassurance from her friends every once in a while. And I'm not apologizing for it either.

Also, I recognize the inherent flaws in the theory that some guy is holding my first kiss hostage. My theory of kisses believes that both parties own the kiss, so it's just as much mine as it is the lucky guy who'll someday (sooner than later) receive it. From me.

Actually, it also makes me realize that I've probably been metaphorically standing under the mistletoe for years, just hoping someone would pass by. And that's wrong, too. I have more control over this situation than that. So, unlike Justin Bieber, I'm done "waiting under the mistletoe."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas on TV: "A Golden Christmas 2: The Second Tail"

Before I get into the meat of this post, I need to express how much I dislike putting the tale/tail pun in the title of a movie. Okay, moving on.

I was intensely excited to see that A Golden Christmas has a sequel, so last night I made my roommate sit down and watch it with me. I had high expectations for The Second Tail to be as awesomely bad as the first one. After watching the sequel, I'm here to tell you that bad story lines should only be taken so far, and in the case of made-for-TV Christmas movies, that "so far" equals approximately one movie.

I've complained before about Christmas movies that are obviously filmed in the middle of the summer, and this one (set in retiree-heaven Florida) falls into that category. All the extras in the background are wearing bikini tops and short shorts (women) or cargo shorts and no shirt (men). Obviously it wasn't that cold.

But beyond just masquerading as a cold-weather Christmas movie, this movie shows even more definitively than its predecessor that these films probably originated as a "matchmaking dog" franchise. They had to add the Christmas element before anyone would agree to produce it.

As matchmaking dog Christmas movies go, this one is deeply flawed. For one, it is intensely SSSLLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWW. The main couple spends more time expressing their feelings about each other to others than actually expressing them to each other. And while you could argue that such is the case in most romcoms, this one takes the cake. And then has a dog run into it for comic effect.

Even so, the movie also leaves plenty of things unexplained. Ten minutes into the movie, a random 10-year-old blonde girl wanders into the movie, and it takes them fifteen more minutes to explain how she even knows these people. Also, I asked myself several times during the movie why her love story (with a Justin Bieber/Zac Efron wannabe) was better than the film's actual love story.

Actually, this film brings up more questions than it answers. Questions like

1. Why would a guy roll up his jeans like "man-pris" while popping the question?
2. Why is the materialistic crazy girlfriend suddenly all nice and huggy at the end?
3. Why would anyone propose with a ring from a vending machine?
4. Why do these people think the story behind why someone would propose with a vending machine ring is touching? (Because it's not. And the background music doesn't help sell it. At. All.)
5. Why do these people share their life stories with old people they met less than five minutes ago?
6. Why do these old people act like therapists if they trained as lawyers?
7. Why do the young people treat the old people like therapists?

And, the most important question of all: Why do people think that by adding more puppies to a movie franchise you will improve upon it? Because experience has shown (Air Bud 2-17, 102 Dalmatians, Beethoven's 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th) that more dogs just make bad movies worse.

If you sat through the original, this movie is worth a watch. But if you didn't, do yourself a favor and quit after you hear the reggae/calypso version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"about ten minutes in. Made-for-TV Christmas is better than this. At least, it can be when it wants to.

Star power: Chad Michael Murray's original girlfriend from A Cinderella Story falls in love with the main missionary from The Best Two Years despite his best intentions to get engaged to Lydia from the pink/Mormon Pride and Prejudice--a made-for-TV movie full of "B" movie stars

Use of made-for-TV Christmas conventions: random characters resembling Santa Claus, Christmas tree lights turning on for dramatic effect at key moments, rekindled love amid drastic circumstances, child characters with no actual purpose