Friday, December 21, 2012

This Is Just to Say...

This post is just to say that I have obviously fallen behind on my made-for-TV Christmas movie watching, and I may not catch up this year, but tune in next year for whatever posts don't make it onto the blog this year.

This post is also just to say that blogging is very cathartic for me. I get to have conversations with Past Whitty that remind Present Whitty that Future Whitty still has a pretty bright future. Past Whitty is really good with that because she's had a few epiphanies that Present Whitty sometimes forgets but that she needs to remember to keep being awesome and become Future Whitty. Past Whitty is, well, witty. And reading what Past Whitty wrote makes Present Whitty content and confident and peaceful, even when she doesn't have everything she's ever wanted--Past Whitty reminds Present Whitty that she already has the ability to become her very best version of Future Whitty.

This paragraph is just to apologize for the last paragraph and all of the referring to myself in the third person.

And this last part is just to say "Merry Christmas" to any bloggers out there who like the poems of William Carlos Williams or the British accents of actors who've portrayed Mr. Darcy or both. Because one of those actors will now read William Carlos Williams's poem, "This Is Just to Say." Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas on TV: Christmas Writers and Editors

Another recurring element on many made-for-TV Christmas movies comes in the form of a certain job held by their protagonists: writer. I would guess this occurs because so many writers of these made-for-TV movies like to "write what they know." A writing career also serves as a good vehicle to take a cynical urban professional and transfer him or her to a small town where he or she can rediscover the meaning of Christmas--and find love with a cute police officer/small business owner/single father/widowed lawyer/bachelor doctor. And because I am a writer, these movies tend to be some of my favorites because I love to escape into that fantasy one way or another.

Farewell, Mr. Kringle
Christine Taylor--wife of Ben Stiller and Marcia Brady from the Brady Bunch movies--works as a magazine writer sent to Mistletoe, California, to interview a man who's been the town Santa Claus for 50 years. Both she and he have a bit of tragedy in their past, but nothing that can't be overcome in two hours. I enjoyed Christine Taylor in this movie--her character has a believable personality, her reactions to setbacks are generally not overly dramatic, and the writings her character produces remind me of pieces I'd like to read on the internet. The love story isn't the greatest, and her wedding veil at the end is not beautiful enough for her, but the Santa Claus is top tier.

Christmas Child

I was incredibly skeptical going into this one because it is based on a Max Lucado story, and I've been exposed to You Are Special enough times to know that Max Lucado can be synonymous with sentimental allegory. But, it also has Megan Follows, Anne of Green Gables herself, so I gave it a whirl. Her husband writes for a newspaper in Chicago and gets sent to Texas on assignment during the holidays, which only increases the resentment and disconnection both feel in their marriage. I didn't watch enough of this one in real time to figure out what the husband needed to write about in Texas, but whatever it was, it made him appreciate his wife more when they reunited at the airport.

His and Her Christmas

David Sutcliffe (Christopher from Gilmore Girls) and Dina Meyer work as newspaper columnists at competing newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area. While he's at the peak of his career, about to begin a nationally syndicated news show, her newspaper is about to go under. As a last ditch effort to save her paper, she launches a column discussing the holiday season, and he fights back with a column of his own. This movie reminds me of You've Got Mail in the sense that it features two people working in the same career who think they are complete opposites but are actually perfect for each other. The trouble with this movie is that the main couple doesn't start interacting face to face until about halfway through the movie, which is a shame because they do their best work when they're playing off each other. It's worth a watch, particularly for David Sutcliffe's performance and Dina Meyer's curly hair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas on TV: A Star for Christmas

Some of the season's lesser-known TV Christmas movies air on Ion. And not only are these movies lesser known, they are also generally of lesser quality. This is the channel that brought you A Golden Christmas and its two sequels.

So, with those low expectations, I found myself laughing with/at A Star for Christmas. The basic premise is that a big time movie star is filming his latest movie, a Christmas action film, in the hometown of a cupcake baker who apparently lives under a rock--she doesn't own a TV, and she must never go to the movies because she doesn't recognize him when he walks into her bakery.

One of the earliest scenes in the movie embraces its kitschy-ness and the general kitsch that accompanies all made-for-TV Christmas movies. The movie star purchases a cupcake from the baker, and time slows down as he takes the first bite. Music borrowed from a love scene on The Bachelor plays in the background, computer-generated stars sparkle on the screen, and the baker's awe at her customer's movie star good looks comes across through her exaggerated breathing. The filmmakers went too far in this scene, but they knew they were going too far, and that's why it worked.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't have the same kitschy watchability as the cupcake-eating scene. Despite being presented with the possibility of dating a rich and handsome movie star, the baker never takes her hair out of a ponytail. I guess it's good that she doesn't try to change for him, but I wish she were less of a tomboy.

Other signs that this movie had an extremely limited budget include the embarrassing misspelling of the rival love interest's name ("Sklar" instead of "Skyler"), the fact that the rival love interest looks like she's the age of Demi Moore (which would work if they were going for A Cougar Christmas), and the fact that half of the sets are movie sets and trailers--and therefore capable of serving two purposes, one on screen and one off. Plus, I know from all the Christmas movies I've watched that no one films Christmas movies in December as this movie purports to do. Nor does anyone make Christmas actions movies. Nor should they.

That said, the leading man sure looks good, if you can overlook the fact that he looks like a young George Michael in the "Last Christmas" video. He buys one of the greatest gifts ever given during TV Christmas, an acceptable explanation for the amount of kissing in this movie. Seriously, I've never seen so much kissing between the main couple in a made-for-TV Christmas movie. Just one more reason to watch A Star for Christmas, even though the ending stinks and the entire movie is deeply flawed.

If you want the short version, then please enjoy the following:

Christmas on TV: The 12 Men of Christmas

In one of my favorite Doris Day movies, The Thrill of It All, Doris is married to obstetrician James Garner but suddenly finds herself as the spokeswoman for "Happy Soap." In her new role, she does a live commercial during a Playhouse-style variety show where the same actors act out different scenes and characters each week. After watching for two or three weeks, her children at home say to their housekeeper, "They did that story last week." This youngster's observations are correct. Each week the woman gets mad and throws her drink in Carl Reiner's face and he yells basically the same line back at her every time. Even Doris eventually notices the similarities in each week's show and comments on it to one of the show's executives. His response? "The audience isn't smart enough to recognize the similarities." But as the children already demonstrated, the audience totally knows.

I got that feeling myself while watching The 12 Men of Christmas. At first I was praising its original premise: a PR executive moves to Montana and launches a campaign to raise money by shooting a calendar of the town's firefighters. Sounds a little sketchy but totally Lifetime.

But about a third of the way through the movie, I realized that the sexy fireman calendar and the Christmas setting are staying afloat in a thinly veiled Pride and Prejudice remake. Kristin Chenoweth's E.J. Baxter (bearing roughly the same initials as Elizabeth Bennett) meets Will Albrecht (an offshoot of Fitzwilliam Darcy) while he's skinny-dipping in his own swimming pool, much like when Elizabeth encounters Mr. Darcy coming out of the water at Pemberley. So naturally she thinks he's too proud or prejudiced, and he thinks the same thing of her. She starts dating a firefighter with ugly California surfer boy hair who confesses his shady past dealings with Will to her. Will later awkwardly confesses to E.J. that he's attracted to her; she rejects him. She stops dating the Mr. Wickham character for no apparent reason, realizes she's attracted to Will, overcomes a few more obstacles to be with him, and they all live happily ever after.

I don't hate this movie; I just wish it weren't so dependent upon the Pride and Prejudice allusions because I think it would have been a fine movie without them. Or it at least should have a title that acknowledges the allusion like Christmas and Prejudice or Pride and Presents. Kristin Chenoweth demonstrates all her quirky charm that won her a Tony (aside from actually singing anything), and the some of the men in the calendar are very worthy of eye candy status. Also watch for Anna Chlumsky of My Girl and My Girl 2 and the beautiful scenery of shooting on location in Montana.

Christmas on TV (via Netflix): All I Want for Christmas

As gimmicky Christmas movies go, this one floats along without too much sentimentality. Gail O'Grady plays a widow with a young son who wishes for a toy company to find her a new husband for Christmas. She looks younger in this movie than she ever did as the mom on American Dreams, and she plays her role with honesty. Her leading men--love interest Robert Mailhouse and adolescent son Jimmy Jax Pinchak (soon to be seen as Peter Wiggin in Ender's Game)--also absorb the demands of their roles with dignity, leaving little room for annoyance. The problem is how these actors are subjected to the intense flaws of the storyline. I'll admit I skipped the scenes featuring a money hungry toy executive who plays his role like the villain in a Power Rangers episode. And although the movie attempts to explain why she agrees to marry the so-so son of the evil toy exec after only knowing him for a few weeks, it's entirely unbelievable that she would make that choice because her character has her head so firmly on her shoulders aside from that erratic decision. I enjoyed this movie fine, and I have no qualms in recommending it, but I probably won't watch it again next year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas on TV: The March Sisters at Christmas

A friend of mine described this movie as "Little Women in a frat house." Add the fact that the entire plot of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel has been condensed to take place in the two months leading up to Christmas, and she's described this movie perfectly.

Need some visual evidence? Exhibit A, Teddy Lawrence in a toga.

That image, plus that awkward moment when Meg and Mr. Brooke have sex in her parents' bedroom (and talk about how they've done it before!) are only a few elements that make this movie a mediocre modernization of Little Women. Poor sheltered, religious Louisa must be turning over in her grave.

But for the sake of blogging, let's check in with each of the March girls and see how they fare in the modern world.

Farthest to the right we have Meg, law student who can't make up her mind. She broke up with John Brooke, her college boyfriend, to be with a rich but neglectful guy who thankfully gets very little screen time. Kudos to Lifetime for giving Meg a worthwhile career plan, but law school doesn't seem very Meg to me. She fits better in a career that is personally meaningful rather than financially lucrative. I envision her as a school teacher, molding young minds until she leaves her career to start her own family, but I know that's not a strong enough career plan for a Lifetime movie.

Front and center stands Jo, who (no offense to blondes) shouldn't be a blonde. All the stereotypes about blondes detract from her credibility. I do think her modern job as a ghost tweeter for ditzy celebrities suits the Jo March I know, always hiding behind pseudonyms, but aside from her career aspirations, this Jo comes across as entirely selfish. I can't see why Teddy loves her, so for the first time in my life I actually want her to reject him. Thankfully, her Mr. Baehr is a Jewish editor rather than a man who is twenty years her senior.

Speaking of old men with creepy attachments to young women, Mr. Lawrence has quite a thing for young Beth, farthest to the left in the photo above. Most women I know consider Beth their least favorite character in Little Women, but I think she should have been more developed in this modern version. She's the only March sister not swooning over boys like she can't live without them, a quality that the Lifetime Channel seems oddly poised to promote. But instead they've relegated her to sidekick and allowed Teddy's uncle to spend most of the movie spying on her while she plays the piano and offering her extravagant presents--all of which did not seem generous and appropriate like it did in the original.

Finally, young Amy with the curly hair and the athletic jersey turns 21 in the film and wants to be an actress, an apt career choice for the dramatic Amy. She's still a selfish brat, but she seems like a good fit for Teddy, perhaps even more so than in the original because the audience never gets to see the strange age difference of her at 12 and him at 18. 21 and 28ish seems natural, especially since her lifelong crush is only implied and his sudden change of heart doesn't come across as a desperate attempt to marry a March sister.

Overall, I recommend this movie only for people who know the original Little Women very well and want some good laughs at the attempt to modernize it. Modernizing this story might even have been a good idea, just not as a made-for-TV Christmas movie. Anyone willing to help me write a new and improved screenplay?

Christmas on TV: A Bride for Christmas

Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie 2012 #7

Easily the most notable aspect of this film is the cast. Some newcomers, some familiar faces, all combining to keep you watching this Christmas version of Runaway Bride.

First, there's the bride herself, Dean's sometimes wife from Gilmore Girls. It's refreshing to see her in a leading role where I don't feel obligated to either hate or pity her character. The writers gave her a dream job--interior designer--in a dream city--San Francisco--so I'm hooked from the beginning.

But actually, that hooked feeling stems more from seeing Buzz McNabb from Psych waiting for Mrs. Dean Gilmore Girls at the altar in the opening scene. Naturally, she runs, partially because the script calls for it, and partially because Buzz struts through this movie looking like a young and greasy Alfred Molina. He even works as a plumber, which feels like a deliberate attempt to make him seem like less of a catch.

But the real clincher of my interest is a new guy who looks like he just quit his Abercrombie modeling gig to make a Hallmark movie. Here's hoping he makes a few more before he goes the way of Bradley Cooper and becomes the sexiest man alive.

The bride and her Abercrombie model–turned financial advisor boyfriend share a cute love story that also features dogs which don't annoy me because they actually act like dogs instead of playing matchmaker and providing narration over the action. In the end, I believe that she would take the plunge and finally get married at the end of the movie, though I had a harder time believing he would change his feelings about women and marriage in such a short period of time. But he looks good in a suit, so I don't really care.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas on TV: Speed-Watchers, Part 3

A Christmas Wish

Yet another Christmas movie obviously filmed in Utah. No effort was made to conceal the various styles of Utah license plates on the cars, and it is set in Mapleton, a real town just south of Provo. This one has quite a cast: Kristy Swanson, K.C. Clyde of The Best Two Years, Edward Herrman, Kurt Russell's best friend from Overboard, and Troy Bolton's dad from High School Musical (also filmed in Utah). Aside from these actors, the cast leaves a lot to be desired, particularly since the writer overloaded this movie with scenes for child actors to stretch their nonexistent acting skills. After fast-forwarding through most of the scenes featuring children, I was rooting for the relationship between Kristy Swanson and K.C. Clyde to turn into love (despite their obvious and awkward age difference), but even the ending robbed me of that: no kiss. Not even a date. So in the end, none of this movie's seven plot lines compelled me to recommend it to you. 

A Family Thanksgiving

A dedicated lawyer (Daphne Zuniga) tries her hand at a different kind of life when she is magically transformed into a wife and mother. This movie is basically 13 Going on 30 for Christmas or The Family Man for a woman and on TV. It also has shades of A Christmas Carol, since Mira Sorvino plays Daphne's psycho-transformation therapist, a combination of  Jacob Marley and all three Ghosts of Christmas. Just like in A Christmas Wish, I found myself fast-forwarding to the scenes between the two love interests to avoid the all-too-numerous scenes with children who are meant to be adorable but are actually annoying. At least one of these romantic scenes lends a decidedly more Lifetime Channel flavor to this Hallmark Channel movie.

On Strike for Christmas

Daphne Zuniga and David Sutcliffe play a married couple and parents of teenage twin boys who get at odds with each other when she feels under-appreciated and overused during the holiday season. So she does what the heroine of every Lifetime Channel movie does: she gets the form of going on strike from her mothering, wife-ing, and decorating duties. While I found myself wondering why all these women own businesses (other than that they're living in a Lifetime movie), I also found myself laughing, at least at the scenes featuring David Sutcliffe getting his domesticity going. Like most movies with David Sutcliffe, it's worth it for David Sutcliffe. Watch him don an apron and bake poorly with his sons. In the end, the message of this movie was shockingly anti-feminist: women apparently should slave away to make Christmas amazing for the men in their lives, even if it means losing our own purposes as women.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas on TV: Movies with Mistletoe

Moonlight and Mistletoe

Candace Cameron Bure, a.k.a. D.J. from Full House, stars in this movie as the daughter of Tom Arnold, a man who runs a Christmas-themed amusement park that is doomed to go under if it doesn't turn a profit this year. Guess what their names are? Holly and Nick. Super original. D.J./Holly gets to fend off the advances of two potential boyfriends--one with evil intentions for the Santa theme park, one with a true heart of gold and a skill for making nutcrackers.

I consider this film fairly middle of the road as far as Christmas movies go. It doesn't make me giggle and squirm with joy because the characters and the storyline are original and charming; it doesn't make me giggle and squirm because the characters and the storyline are boring and sentimental. In fact, it doesn't make me giggle or squirm at all. The love interest is cute in a rugged, outdoorsy way, but I don't find myself rooting for their love story like I do in other movies.

But apparently there's also a book with this title...

I'm not sure the two are related.

Mistletoe Over Manhattan

The only reason this movie is even getting a full review is that I planned this "mistletoe" blogpost out before I realized how much this movie exudes the qualities I dislike about poorly made TV Chrismtas movies. Way too many scenes with elves and Santa Claus, an overacting and interfering Mrs. Claus (known as Mrs. Clausburger), background music that "sparkles," a red-haired actress in green dresses for a showcasing of the Christmas spirit, and a tragic family situation that finds a remarkable solution. I'm sorry, but a couple with deep-seeded communication issues cannot solve those problems by recreating their first kiss, even if that kiss took place under the mistletoe. I didn't catch this movie when it premiered last year, and now I won't be watching it next year or any year after that. But the family in the picture does look pretty.

And a book also shares this title. Again, probably not related.

Christmas on TV: Gems You May Have Missed

Lucky Christmas

This movie premiered last year on the Hallmark Channel, but because I only had about two weeks of TV Christmas movie viewing time on my hands, I had to pick and choose, and I ended up deleting a lot of them without even watching them on fast forward. Missing this one was a mistake! It has a fairly original idea of getting the happy couple together, although it does remind me of that '90s flick with Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda, It Could Happen to You.

Elizabeth Berkley from Saved by the Bell plays a single mom who aspires to be a chef but is stuck in hostessing and convenience store jobs. Every week, she buys a lottery ticket with the same numbers, kisses it for good luck, and of course the one time she wins is the time she left the ticket in the glove box of her stolen car.

The thief of her car just happens to be the quirky but barely-ever-on-screen friend of Jason Gray-Stanford. You probably know him as Lieutenant Randy Disher from Monk, but in this movie he plays a construction worker and aspiring architect who is channelling Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping. His family business is about to go under, and he lets his quirky friend convince him that he deserves a reward for finding the ticket. He starts spending time with Elizabeth Berkley and her son who plays one of the best kids I've ever seen in a movie of this type. There's hockey, there's baking, there's a pinewood derby--and I found myself smiling in spite of myself. The ending is a bit abrupt, but I was cheering the entire movie for this odd couple that actually makes a lot of sense. Watch it.

Trading Christmas
Some viewers might consider this a made-for-TV twist on The Holiday, and I'll admit that there's more than a little similarity between the movies, at least in basic premise. Two singles swap homes during the holiday season and find love and friendship in their new but temporary abodes. But I honestly prefer Trading Christmas (even though it lacks Jude Law). While the basic setup requires a willing suspension of disbelief, as does the notion that both principal parties to the house swap would find love that quickly while only meeting one new person each, the acting and the situations in this movie seem natural rather than forced. These couples don't need coy kisses under the mistletoe; they just need good conversation and undeniable chemistry.

Trading Christmas also differs from The Holiday in that our house swappers are not running away from recent break-ups or unrequited love. Faith Ford's character is a widow who already lives a full and happy life but makes room for more love and adventure when she meets bachelor businessman Gil Bellows. His brother, Tom Cavanaugh, is a novelist suffering from writer's block and a not-quite-healed broken heart from a broken engagement, and the last thing he wants (but the first thing he needs) is the influence of recent divorcee Gabrielle Miller on his writing. None of these four actors plays their part with an overabundance of heartbreak, which endears them all the more to the audience and makes you giddy and cheerful as their relationships blossom. I loved this one last year; I loved it again this year. Seldom does a made-for-TV Christmas movie stand the multiple viewing test like this one.

Recipe for a Perfect Christmas
By endorsing this movie on the "Gems" list, I don't want you to get the idea that this is a classic. But I remembered liking it enough last year to watch it again this year. What I'd forgotten between now and then is the outspokenness of the mom (played by Christine Baranski) and the selfishness of the daughter that grated on me throughout the movie but also seemed believable. I really do know women who open their mouths and spew out whatever opinions they have, no matter how blunt, and those women's daughters are usually just as outspoken in their own selfish ways.

Once I got past the overtly annoying traits of feuding daughter and overbearing mother, I discovered that Christine Baranski plays a more multi-layered mom than I've ever seen in a Christmas movie, made-for-TV or otherwise. Within moments she shifts from strong, independent job seeker to subtly insulted rejectee striving to maintain dignity. I root for her character most in this movie, since her side of the story seems more sympathetic than her shortsighted and overprivileged daughter's. However, I did root for the daughter to overcome that shortsightedness and realize she should be with the sexy Italian chef she asked to take her mom out. Because he's a sexy Italian chef. Who doesn't love that?

Christmas in Boston
Technically, I already reviewed this movie last year as a Not-Too-Shabby, but since then I have discovered that one of its stars is Patrick J. Adams of Suits. Because of my huge crush on his Suits character, Mike Ross, I watched Christmas in Boston with a whole new kind of appreciation. If you like Suits, you probably will, too. Catch it during ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas or whenever you want on YouTube if you're not picky about image quality.

Christmas on TV: This should be a movie...

You may have seen this already. But even if you have, you should watch it again.

Are you like me, wishing this actually were a movie? If you read my blog, I'm betting you do.

I think the first commenter below the video says it best:
I was so freaking excited for this movie. I thought "OMG there's hope for me."
And then BAM
freaking. sears. commercial.
But, aside from the female lead's over-abbreviated vocabulary, this should be a movie. His name is Eddie. Which is a hot name, if you remember what I mean. And maybe minus the cheesy saying, "Those who wish to sing always find a song."

And yet, there's some truth to that saying. At least there is if you spin it to say, "Those who wish to write Christmas movies for television always come up with new plots." Here are a few I brainstormed this morning (some with my mother's help), hereby copyrighted for future production by me.

Christmas in the E.R.: A mockumentary about "the most dangerous day of the year" and the doctors and nurses who work it. First, Siamese twin brothers break their shared leg trying to use their new sled. Then, a grandma gets run over by her son's minivan, decked out like a reindeer for the holiday season. Later, a boy shoots his eye out after receiving a Red Ryder BB gun. And so the holiday goes. Prepare yourself for the most painful Christmas movie since Home Alone 2.

Watch out, Grandma!

The Christmas Sweater: An ugly but lucky Christmas sweater grants the wishes of its five different wearers: a single mom attending her office holiday party, a heartless executive forced to spend Christmas at home, a poor but deserving bride-to-be planning her nuptials for New Year's Eve, a nerdy and kindhearted mail carrier who always spends Christmas Eve alone, and an Australian web designer enjoying his first Christmas in wintertime. Possibly starring Matt Damon.

I'm Matt Damon, and I approve this movie.

Ice, Ice Baby: A standoffish graphic designer, best known in her field for her innovative wrapping paper patterns, meets a professional hockey player while volunteering at a mall gift wrapping station. Sparks fly as she teaches him to wrap elegantly and he teaches her to skate swiftly, but when his hockey schedule interferes with their budding romance, will she view his smooth moves as thin ice for a relationship or allow him to score a hat-trick with her heart? (Alternative title: Wrap Up My Heart)

We're a real couple, and we're adorable.
And these are our real engagement photos.

Hot Cocoa: A hot chocolate company holds a contest to find the nation's best homemade hot cocoa, and two of the company's top executives (who happen to hate each other) travel to meet the finalists and select a winner. Soon, the heat between them originates in more than the steamy liquids they drink, and their once frozen hearts are beginning to warm to the idea of romance again. 

A cupful of hot, strong love

Christmas on TV: Will You Merry Me?

As the promotional poster makes clear, Will You Merry Me? focuses more on the feuding mothers-in-law to be than their engaged children. Lifetime clearly intended to appeal to their typical audience of women over 40 by validating the emotions of women facing the imminent marriage of their children rather than the romantic emotions of those marrying children.

In theory, this underrepresented segment of the Christmas movie population should create some refreshing new protagonists for the genre. In reality, the movie plays as a Christmas spinoff of Bride Wars. A bad movie cannot a good knockoff inspire.

Aside from the mean matriarchs, the central couple opens the movie by getting engaged, an act meant to convince the audience that they are in love, but as the movie goes on and it becomes clear that they have never discussed their goals, their futures, or even their political beliefs, their "love" becomes less believable and their feuding more inevitable.

Indeed, feuding is the central element of the movie. Christmas vs. Hannukah. Career woman vs. housewife. City-dweller vs. suburbanite. Lawyer vs. artist. Unbelievable vs. Implausible. This movie's major flaws stem from the fact that it believes conflict must come from polar opposites that are clearly imposed by a writer instead of natural conflict stemming from character choices.

Plus, there's that nasty pun in the title. Will I "merry" you? No. Christmas is merrier without this movie.

Christmas on TV: Naughty or Nice (2012)

Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie 2012 #6

Going into this movie, my deepest fear was that Hilarie Burton's character would be the daughter, granddaughter, or other type of relative of Santa Claus. I think we can all agree that that angle on a made-for-TV Christmas movie has been done and done again, mostly in ways it shouldn't have been done. Luckily, Burton plays only a woman with the unfortunate name of Krissy Kringle (apparently given to her by the parents from Family Ties who reunite for five minutes of screen time) and is in no way related to the other Kris Kringle.

As the movie opens, Krissy Kringle's life is imploding: she loses her job, is getting nasty looks from her neighbors on Candy Cane Lane for not decorating her house for Christmas, and can't figure out why her boyfriend of six years hasn't proposed. (But what I can't figure out is why her boyfriend, played by Matt Dallas of Kyle XY, chooses to dress like Mr. Rogers when he's a lawyer and could easily dress like a cast member of Suits.) Because of her name and address, she receives a plethora of letters to Santa, along with a magical book that reveals the Naughty or Nice deeds of everyone she wants dirt on.

I felt that this movie cleverly included fantasy elements without being too over-the-top or annoying, although it could have done without the Santa Claus scene at the end. Much of the credit goes to the actors who really do provide the kind of performances that can transform a so-so script into a highly watchable film. Hilarie Burton in particular carried her role with grace, seldom overacting or giving a melodramatic performance that can turn an audience against a main character.

The best part of this movie? The sidekick elf who became Hilarie's best friend in the movie. He gave her great advice, he supported her at her street's dumb holiday party, he turned her dead-end job into a laugh a minute, he wore an elf suit in solidarity with her, he encouraged her to fight for her old job and stand up for herself with her boyfriend...and the list goes on and on. I mean, he was the kind of friend you tell your strangest secrets to, like "I somehow have Santa's Naughty and Nice list and it's telling me the best and worst deeds of everyone I know"--and he'll believe you without being a bit flabbergasted, and even if you've only known him for a few days. You can't buy friends like that. He was easily the most watchable part of the movie, but he got absolutely no reward for being charming. We didn't get to see him find a new romance, reunite with a long lost family member, or even get the gift he'd always wanted. He didn't even get a new job. In my opinion, he deserved a happy ending even more than Krissy Kringle did. Hallmark Channel, this guy should have a movie!

Christmas on TV: Speed-Watchers, Part 2

The Heart of Christmas (also available on Netflix)
I would categorize this movie as A Christmas Movie That Isn't about Christmas. Because it's actually a movie about a kid with cancer. I won't say it's the most sentimental kid-dying-of-cancer movie I've ever seen, and it is definitely family friendly. It's just not my cup of tea as far as Christmas on TV.

There's a frame story about Candace Cameron Bure and her husband, played by Burgess Jenkins, the racist player from Remember the Titans and a man who always looks to me like he's a contestant on The Bachelorette. She spends the entire movie reading the blog of dying child's mother, which is how the audience also learns about the true heart of the movie. Also watch out for George Newbern, the son-in-law from Father of the Bride, who plays one of the doctors. I don't have much else to say about this one, mostly because I hate to say anything against it since it is based on a real family's story. Usually, I'm adamant about dying kids being a ploy to make the audience cry, but I hope it never comes across that I don't realize that some families actually do have children who die. 

A Christmas Proposal

The written synopsis of this one on TiVo gave me great expectations: "Two opposing lawyers--one-time sweethearts--battle over the development of a ski resort." If romantic Christmas movies have one purpose, it's to reunite former lovers who are now feuding, or at least unite enemies who are destined to be spouses. The male lawyer brings his privileged new girlfriend to his hometown where his down-to-earth former girlfriend (played by Charles in Charge and Baywatch alum Nicole Eggert) still lives. Tom Arnold makes an appearance as the stuck-up girlfriend's father, in case you haven't seen enough of him this season (and there's more to come!). A hour and 20 minutes in, I got my first visible clue that our feuding lawyers were actually falling back in love. And 20 minutes later, his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend gives him the worst movie slap ever. Take this one or leave it; your choice. Final piece of advice: do not propose with a high school class ring.

Christmas Every Day

I had exactly one reason for DVR'ing this movie: Erik von Detten. While EVD was never as popular as JTT, he did have quite the career as a '90s child star, providing the voice of Sid in Toy Story and starring in one of the greatest Disney Channel Original Movies, Brink! But EVD, like many child stars, also has plenty of projects on his early resume that would be better left inside some movie vault. Christmas Every Day is certainly one of those projects. A knockoff of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day, this movie instead allows an ungrateful teenage boy to relive Christmas four to seven times (I could have counted, but I really didn't care) until he realizes its true meaning. Aside from the ingrained flaws in that premise, this movie also features a town where somehow every store and restaurant is open on Christmas Day because EVD has time to rent a video and go on a date at the local hangout. If you're looking for a Christmas re-imagining of Groundhog Day, try ABC Family's 12 Dates of Christmas: at least Mark-Paul Gosselaar has outgrown his '90s child star look and become a man in it.

A Very Brady Christmas
This movie special from 1988 attempts (and sort of achieves) the impossible: fitting nine plot lines into a two hour movie. Yes, that's right, every member of the Brady clan gets his or her own story for this movie. Some I cared about more than others, so I found myself fast-forwarding through the "lesser" Bradys. But I'll summarize for you.

Mike: He must deal with an disagreeable client who doesn't like the structural changes to the architectural design.
Carol: She has no idea that Mike is planning to buy her a trip to Japan for Christmas, so naturally she's planning on using the same funds to buy him a cruise around Greece.
Greg: He and his wife argue about which set of in-laws should be blessed with their presence for Christmas.
Marcia: Her husband lost his job at a toy factory, acts like a child, and refuses to let any of the other Bradys know about their situation. Also, Marcia owns a strange precursor to a flip phone that has a cord attached to it and what looks like a panda face on it.
Peter: He's in love with a woman at his office who's also his boss and wonders if he can marry her even though she makes more money. While discussing this dilemma with Bobby, I was forced to ask myself if I ever thought of Peter as the kind of kid who would grow up to wear striped nightgowns. The answer was no.
Jan: She and her husband, Phillip, are having marital problems but keeping them secret from the family.
Bobby: He's dropped out of college and wants to become a race car driver.
Cindy: She wanted to go skiing with her girlfriends for Christmas instead of coming home. And since she's not the original Cindy, I wondered why they didn't just let her. I'm sure Cousin Oliver would have been available.
Alice: Sam the butcher cheated on her with a younger woman, so she's moved back in with Mike and Carol and volunteered to be their slave. Not really, but kind of, since she starts wearing her uniform again like she's a servant rather than a friend.

One final observation: A Very Brady Christmas aired on the last day of ABC Family's Countdown to the 25 Days of Christmas, indicating that it cannot on its own merits earn a spot in the actual 25 Days of Christmas. Which is sadly accurate.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas on TV: Shelley Long and A Holiday Engagement

Remember this post last year? Well, The Santa Trap wasn't Shelley Long's first foray into the cheesy Christmas movie genre. Nor was it her last. Just see this year's post about A Different Kind of Christmas. In fact, Shelley Long has been quite prolific in the made-for-TV Christmas category, even if those movies haven't always turned out stellar.

For instance, apparently Shelley Long couldn't let Dean Cain keep The Dog Who Saved... franchise to himself. In the newest direct-to-DVD addition to this series, Shelley Long joins the cast. Technically I haven't seen The Dog Who Saved the Holidays, so I won't say anything against it other than IT'S CALLED The Dog Who Saved the Holidays, and that's all I need to know about it.

But there is one Shelley Long made-for-TV Christmas movie I can recommend without hesitation.

A Holiday Engagement (also available on Netflix)

A Holiday Engagement plays as a spin-off of Holiday in Handcuffs, but without the kidnapping of the fake boyfriend. Instead our leading lady offers two airline tickets to a guy willing to pretend he's her fiancĂ© for Thanksgiving. The main love interest in this movie is a guy who looks very much like Kyle Howard, but isn't. Which is strange because Kyle Howard plays Melissa Joan Hart's brother in Holiday in Handcuffs. Compare for yourself.

Despite not having been crazy enough to kidnap her fake fiancĂ© like Melissa Joan Hart did, the lead actress in A Holiday Engagement acts quite crazy at times as if she's forgetting that this guy is not actually her boyfriend. Of course, by the end of the movie he's in love with her and she him, but her crazy does come out in spades.

Shelley Long plays that age-old character, the marriage-obsessed mother who rudely reminds her daughter that her biological clock is ticking in every other scene. But honestly, the first time I saw this movie, I was shocked that Shelley Long was actually Shelley Long--she just looked so much older than her character on Cheers. I have no problem with her aging, but I think the costume and makeup people overdid it in this movie. Tell me if you agree.

Also watch for Haylie Duff as a sister who seemingly has it all and Sam Horrigan, the mean skater from Brink!, as one of the potential fake boyfriends. 

Later this season, keep your eyes peeled for a review of Merry In-Laws, a new Lifetime Channel Christmas movie with a copycat storyline: a girl gets engaged to the child of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.

And yes, that is her Cheers co-star George Wendt as Santa Claus. So this one should be worth a look if nothing else than to examine what would have happened if Diane had returned to be with Norm instead... (Hint hint: Ted Danson would have become a crime scene investigator in Las Vegas.)

Christmas on TV: How Dean Cain Is Kevin Bacon

When you've seen as many made-for-TV Christmas movies as I have, you realize that Dean Cain, a.k.a. Superman from The Adventures of Lois and Clark, is in a lot of them. We're talking almost as many as Shelley Long. We're talking almost as many as puppies. In fact, this year alone IMDB lists him as an actor in two holiday movies, and the kicker is that both of those movies also feature dogs: A Dog for Christmas and The Dog Who Saved the Holidays. But we'll get to those. For now let's review some of Dean Cain's best and worst made-for-TV Christmas movies and discover why I think Dean Cain is effectively the Kevin Bacon of the genre--any actor in made-for-TV Christmas movies could get back to Dean Cain in six degrees or less.

A Nanny for Christmas

As this movie started, I was chanting, "Please do not portray the death of the mother. Please do not portray the death of the mother." I was chanting this mostly because, based on the title, I thought it would be about some lonely single father with two or more adorable or obnoxious children who hires a nanny for Christmas and then falls in love with her. But it's not! The nanny (Emmanuelle Vaugier of It's Christmas Carol) is hired by corporate workaholic mom while she works on an ad campaign for intrepid chocolatier Dean Cain. Honestly, other than his status as a regular in made-for-TV Christmas movies, I'm not sure why he gets top billing in this movie. Because an hour into it, he had only been on screen for three minutes. Having gone in with the expectation that he and the nanny were going to fall in love, I was pretty disappointed. Emmanuelle does a fine job carrying the movie, and the children are surprisingly not overly obnoxious, but it needs more Dean Cain.

The Case for Christmas

A knockoff of Miracle on 34th Street, The Case for Christmas features Dean Cain as a lawyer called to defend Santa Claus when a rich man sues him for emotional distress. Elves and a scheming millionaire bring this one down, and the ending would have more punch if the jury were allowed to vote on whether or not Kris Kringle is actually Santa Claus. And if the girl didn't start flying like a fairy at the end.

The Three Gifts

Of all the movies on this list, I choose this one as my favorite. I like Dean Cain best when he's in the role of either good-hearted guy looking for love or devoted husband and father. This movie uses him as more of the latter. He and his wife, played by the curly-haired singer from Mr. Holland's Opus, live on a farm that doubles as a homemade toy factory but are struggling to start a family. Three orphaned boys come to live with them during the holidays, and a family is born. This one is also fun to watch for the scenes with the dad from Family Matters.

The Dog Who Saved Christmas, The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation, & The Dog Who Saved the Holidays

I'll admit happily that I've never seen any of these movies. I only have to read two words into the title to know they're not my style. But apparently Dean Cain helped launch quite a successful franchise here for ABC Family. Both Mario Lopez and Joey Lawrence have done stints as the talking dog in these knockoffs of Home Alone, where Dean Cain plays the Joe Pesci role of conniving thief vent on ruining the holidays. I also don't know where you'll get a chance to see it this year, since even ABC Family has stopped airing them and just started sending them directly to DVD. The first one is airing on Hallmark Channel at some point, but try Amazon if you really must see them.

And speaking of dogs, Dean Cain has made another Christmas movie with dogs entitled...
A Dog for Christmas

I'm not sure when this movie comes out. I'm not sure what channel will air it. I'm not even 100% sure it's even made for TV, except that is has all the right elements: a dog, a Santa character, and several "Where Are They Now?" TV stars in key roles. In all reality, those "Where Are They Now?" actors are the only reason I'd like to see this movie. In addition to Dean Cain, two of the principal actors in A Dog for Christmas are Richard Karn of Home Improvement fame as Santa Claus (which marks the third time a cast member from that show has dressed up in a Santa suit for a movie role) and Dustin Diamond from Saved by the Bell as "Fred." Their Facebook page hasn't been updated in months. Their Twitter account has four tweets; just four. So who knows if we'll ever see this potential gem of a film featuring Dean Cain, the Kevin Bacon of Christmas movies.

And don't forget, the Kevin Bacon of Christmas movies also makes an appearance in A Christmas Wedding.