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 fiancé 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 fiancé 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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas on TV: Hitched for the Holidays

Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie 2012 #7

This movie premiered last Sunday, but I didn't get a chance to watch it until today. From the commercials, I had gathered that it was a reboot of A Holiday Engagement or Holiday in Handcuffs and any number of other made-for-TV Christmas movies that feature this basic plot line: The main characters realize that they are single during the holidays. Oh the horror! Rather than spend one more December with friends and relatives barraging them about their single status, they obtain a fake significant other--through the internet, through kidnapping, through wishing on magical objects, etc.--and then proceed to fall in love with that person. The truth about their relationship comes out, everyone objects for some reason, they "break-up," the holidays pass, they realize they still love each other, one or both of them makes a grand gesture, and they all live happily ever after, never to spend the holidays alone again.

It's a great basic plot line, because any number of quirky friends or relatives, oddly themed holiday parties, strange family traditions, or crazy exes can be added to the mix without much effort. Going into Hitched for the Holidays, I figured it would be about on par with the movies I've already seen with this plot line.

Plus, it stars Joey Lawrence, and the commercials for the movie also brought to mind Lawrence's ABC Family movie My Fake Fiancé, a classic made-for-TV film that spawned Joey's current sitcom with Melissa Joan Hart, Melissa and Joey. In My Fake Fiancé, Melissa and Joey meet at a wedding, realize there's a big payoff to getting married, and decide to stage their own fake wedding to collect the gifts and money--and then fall in love and get married for real. It does have a lame subplot about Joey Lawrence owing money to a bookie named "the Monkey" that I think the movie could do without, but other than that I enjoy it. Anyway, the point of all of that is that I figured it's only a few steps from a fake fiancé to a fake girlfriend for the holidays. Because of Joey Lawrence and the typical plot line, my expectations going into this one were slightly higher than normal.

Readers, I have to tell you, this movie made me actually giddy. It was so much better than I expected it to be in every way. Joey and his counterpart, relative newcomer Emily Hampshire, played such a cute couple with real personalities and real problems. When they had that "I'm opening up to you because we're sleeping in the same room because our parents think we're in love" scene, I actually felt like they would have opened up to each other at that moment. Although I normally advocate saving the first kiss until the end, I loved that they kissed fairly early in the movie and kept on doing it because it allowed me to see their relationship keep developing and watch their feelings for each other grow. I loved that she was Jewish and he was Catholic. I loved that she was a theatre critic and he was a freelance advertising designer. I loved that it spanned all the way to New Year's Eve. I even loved Marilu Henner as the crazy, marriage obsessed mother.

In short, watching Hitched for the Holidays reminded me why I love these movies. All of them may be cheesy, and many of them may not actually be worth my time, but when I come across a gem like this one, the entire genre is justified. This is my favorite new made-for-TV Christmas movie of the season (so far), and I can't wait until next year to watch it again.

Christmas on TV: Home Alone, the Holiday Heist

ABC Family's first addition to the made-for-TV Christmas genre this year is a not-needed addition to the Home Alone franchise. My first reaction to that news looked kind of like this:

I think most people can agree that this series should have stopped after Macaulay Culkin was no longer attached, but  I will put in a good word for Home Alone 3: I remember liking it when I saw it as a child in the theater, the writers managed to come up with a new reason for the kid being left home alone that wasn't too contrived, and it features a super young Scarlett Johansson.

Home Alone 4, made directly for TV, is where the franchise really took a wrong turn. They tried to make some unknown kid into the new Kevin McCallister who is trying to reunite his divorcing parents, also not played by the same people. It takes a special kind of kid to be a smart aleck the audience can root for--Macaulay Culkin had it; the new Kevin did not.

After watching Home Alone: The Holiday Heist with my little brother who is 11 and probably a member of the target audience, I can say that it was definitely better than Home Alone 4, about on par with Home Alone 3, and clearly a knock-off of the first two.

The smart aleck main character this time actually wasn't that much of a smart aleck, which made him a more watchable lead. His main hang-up is his unhealthy attachment to video games, but that reminds me of the original Kevin's attachment to his cassette recorder in Home Alone 2, so I didn't find it a problem. And to be honest, in fifteen years people will still be playing video games but I don't know anyone who still uses cassette tapes, let alone cassette recorders.

As far as the other elements of the movie, the trio of art thieves breaking into the home were okay and the hijinks they faced were creative if unbelievable as always. The parent and the teenage sister didn't add much to the story, but the next door neighbor in the snowman hat was funny. And Ed Asner is looking older and older. It makes me want to go back to 1970 when he was simply Mr. Grant, boss to everyone's favorite young, single professional gal, Mary Tyler Moore.

All in all, I think ABC Family made a pretty good move with Home Alone: The Holiday Heist, a surprising result since I thought this movie would be one of this season's worst. All I have to say is, if they ever make a sixth one (which I don't think they should), let a girl be the one to defend her house this time. Give girls a chance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas on TV: A Boyfriend for Christmas

I'll be honest. I wasn't paying that much attention while I was watching this one. I'm usually trying to blog at the same time, and some movies become more like background noise if they don't have big name stars or a unique plot line. But I did make several personally meaningful observations about this one in the midst of my typing.

About 30 minutes in, I looked up to see the Salt Lake City skyline, complete with the temple. Having lived near SLC for a large portion of my life, I recognize it almost instantly. Plus, it only has a few skyscrapers condensed into a small area and backed by mountains--it pretty much gives itself away.

Watching movies that are filmed in Salt Lake City brings me a special kind of delight because I spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out if I've been to the various locations where scenes are being filmed. The skating rink downtown, the parks nearby Salt Lake City. (Interested viewers can also watch Everything You Want/Love Surreal, available on Netflix and starring Nick Zano, and plenty of Disney Channel Original Movies for more of Salt Lake City on the small screen.)

About halfway through A Boyfriend for Christmas, Holly and the boyfriend Santa gave her for Christmas--who calls himself Doug Firwood--are sitting on a bench overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, and I think to myself, "I've been on that date!" Sure enough, I recognize the views from a hike I went on last summer with a guy friend from high school who was attending the University of Utah.

Even weirder--that's not the first time I've had that thought while watching a movie. The same overlook is featured in My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, an independent movie available to watch on Netflix. It stars Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham and has a surprise twist ending that even I didn't fully see coming.

But back to A Boyfriend for Christmas. In the end, Doug Firwood reveals that his real name is actually Ryan Hughes, she decides she loves him more than her old boyfriend who's been hanging around for no apparent reason, and they share a final kiss on the same bench overlooking Salt Lake. Based on plot alone, I can't really tell you if you should watch this one. But Santa Claus is played by the great Charles Durning. And just maybe, like me, you get a kick out of seeing on screen places you've also seen in real life.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas on TV: Fallen Angel

Before I watched this movie, I thought it was about Gary Sinise and Joely Richardson getting stuck in a  snowbound cabin together and falling in love. But it's not. They do fall in love, they do spend time together next to the fire while a storm is raging outside--but it's not just them.

The first third of the movie shows Gary Sinise's backstory. How he felt his father neglected him for his job as the caretaker of some rental summer homes in Maine. How he met some little girl during a Christmas Eve car accident years ago. How he ran away from home so he could become a better man than his father. How he mostly cares about business now as a 40 something lawyer. How he got called home at Christmastime because his father died. During all that time, he ends up only talking to Joely Richardson on the phone because she and her daughter have rented one of the homes Gary's dad took care of for the holidays, and they're making new arrangements now that his father has died.

Up to the moment when Joely and Gary meet, I was okay with the incorporation of the overused single mother story line. But when the daughter first meets Gary Sinise, she sticks her hand out for him to shake, looks in a completely different direction, and greets him while not looking directly at him. And it hits me! She's supposed to be blind! I know it makes me seem heartless, but I stopped caring about the movie right then and there because it was such a typical, sentimental Hallmark move. I kept watching, and I saw Gary and Joely fall in love, but seriously?!? A blind girl? Next time, skip the kid and just let them fall in love. Spare us the needless tugs at the heartstrings. Don't get me wrong. Sinise and Richardson play their roles well, but this movie was slow-moving and not what I was expecting. I'm sure there are those who love it, but for me, it jumped the shark at blind girl.

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Christmas... bring you a special treat, care of Nathan Adrian's Twitter feed and August Man, Malaysia's definitive men's journal.

If Clark Kent were an Olympian...
...or if Nathan Adrian were in the cast of Mad Men.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging about Christmas on TV.

Christmas on TV: A Christmas Wedding Tail

Whoever wrote this movie took a lot of the basic elements for a TV Christmas movie and put them in a blender. That person just forgot that talking dogs are never a good idea. This is the recipe for this Christmas movie.

One single mother, played by Jennie Garth

One single father, played by a guy who looks familiar but isn't famous in the manner of Dean Cain

Two dogs, a poodle and a golden retriever, who narrate the whole story and also fall in love

4 to 5 children who create "I don't want a new parent" and "I don't like my new siblings" drama

Tom Arnold playing some peripheral character I couldn't identify while watching it on fast forward

Catherine Hicks, the mom from 7th Heaven, as a grandma on one side of this family-to-be

Have the couple fall in love before the first commercial break.

Have the couple get engaged at Thanksgiving, just after the second commercial break.

Insert plenty of obstacles to their wedding actually taking place. Try to make the audience believe they aren't going to actually get married, even though you showed them the wedding in the opening scene.

Stir for 2 hours.

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Actually, if you insist on watching a Christmas dog movie, this is the one to watch. Except for the talking dogs. I watched it last year, not on fast forward, and I maintain that Jennie Garth can make nearly any made-for-TV movie watchable, including this one. And who doesn't want to see her in a wedding dress? Why do you think she got to wear two in that sitcom she had with Amanda Bynes? I just have a serious bias against talking animals. This movie could be great if it didn't include the dogs. Now you've been warned.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas on TV: Christmas Wedding Road Trip Movies

Based on the number of TV Christmas movies that are made each year, I shouldn't be surprised that somehow two movies (at least) have this oddly unique plot line: A woman desperately needs to get to her wedding that is taking place around Christmas and learns more about herself/her true love/the holiday spirit along the way. I shouldn't even be surprised that both of them are made by Lifetime. I think this situation calls for a head-to-head face-off.

May the best movie win.

The Road to Christmas versus A Christmas Wedding

Casting: Jennifer Grey post-nose job and Clark Gregg of The Avengers make a great couple in The Road to Christmas, and Gregg's teenage daughter comes across as normal, which is a first for a made-for-TV movie. Poor Eric Mabius has a terrible haircut in A Christmas Wedding--he looks like he didn't make the final casting call on Saved by the Bell; Sarah Paulson, Dean Cain, and Reagan Pasternak from In a Heartbeat cannot help him and his q-tip impersonation haircut trump the combination of Baby and Agent Coulson. Advantage The Road to Christmas.

Quirkiest scene: Baby and Coulson pick up a Native American lady on their trip, and she senses with her intuition that they are in love; the whole scene was very Three Nephites. But, in A Christmas Wedding, Eric Mabius is forced to attend the bridal shower as the bride when Sarah is trapped in Florida--toilet paper wedding dresses, unwrapping lingerie, cheesy photo slideshows, and dancing male entertainment. Easily more embarrassing than anything in The Road to Christmas. Back to deuce.

Presence or absence of dogs: Agent Coulson and his daughter are traveling with theirs in the back of their truck, but none play a role in A Christmas Wedding. The Road to Christmas loses a point on a technicality. Advantage A Christmas Wedding.

Least annoying plot line: A Christmas Wedding is one of those movies where everything goes wrong. I found myself asking why the bride kept doing good deeds for people because every time she did, she got burned for it. What kind of Christmas movie teaches that? On the other hand, The Road to Christmas is fairly predictable, but that's a good thing in this genre. Deuce once again.

Best soundtrack: I honestly don't remember anything vivid about the music in The Road to Christmas, but the south Florida setting at the early part of A Christmas Wedding inspired its director to use several reggae-style renditions of Christmas carols. And Christmas Wedding also uses an overabundance of travel to music montages. How many times do I have to say it? Less is more, people. Less is more. Advantage The Road to Christmas.

Most twisted ending: Only one of these movies ends with a wedding; that movie is A Christmas Wedding. The other one ends with a woman finding her fiancé in bed with another person, a twist I can proudly say I called. Although I also predicted that the groom would have staged the wedding as a green card scam, which didn't turn out to be true. But will probably be next year's Lifetime incarnation of this plot line.

So the win goes to The Road to Christmas. Both were completely passable as made-for-TV Christmas movies, though neither is a classic. I'll be putting The Road to Christmas on my Must Watch Again list.

Christmas on TV: It's Christmas, Carol!

Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie 2012 #5

Yet another A Christmas Carol knockoff. This one features a few actors that make you tune in--Emmanuelle Vaughier, an actress who's guest-starred in everything (CSI: NY and Smallville being my favorite of her stints), Carson Kresley from The Perfect Man, and Carrie Fisher of Princess Leia fame. Vaughier has a good amount of attitude for her version of a Scrooge-y book publisher, and Kresley's comedic skills are severely underused. This movie also gets props for combining all the ghosts into one character rather than trying to put four all-too-quirky characters into a two-hour movie.

After about forty minutes, though, I started realizing that this movie had too much weight and not enough fun. Sure, Carrie Fisher makes a Star Wars reference or two, but Emmanuelle's diva attitude quickly wears down into a depressing self-pity sob story. When Carrie Fisher arrived as her version of the Ghost of Christmas Future and she wasn't in a Darth Vader costume, I was beyond disappointed. The movie does redeem itself a bit at the end by giving its heroine 30 minutes instead of 10 to make her life better, which allows its (remaining) audience to once again see the charm of Emmanuelle Vaughier.

I also have a few factual bones to pick with It's Christmas, Carol! What kind of book publisher has to Google the plot to A Christmas Carol? Or doesn't know who wrote it, especially after claiming that Dickens and Dostoyevsky are her favorite writers? Any American could likely sum up the plot to Dickens' Christmas classic in five steps: 1. Jacob Marley; 2. Christmas Past; 3. Christmas Present; 4. Christmas Future; 5. "God bless us, every one."

A few notable quotes to leave with you...
  • "Never plan your life around a man. He won't give you the same courtesy."
  • "Men never know what they want until you tell them."

Christmas on TV: Matchmaker Santa

Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie 2012 #4

I'm a little behind on this year's Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, but last night my mom and I finally got to watching this one. My mom got to choose which movie we watched, and she gave just a few criteria: No death. No dogs. No Santa. And Matchmaker Santa is what we settled on, even though it has Santa. Call him the least of three evils. Also, my mom loves Party of Five, so I think the fact that Lacey Chabert is the main character tipped this one into the "Watch me!" column.

The love story in this one is actually sweet and not too heavy-handed. Lacey Chabert is a bakery show owner who wished as a child that Santa would one day give her true love with her Prince Charming for Christmas. She has a workaholic boyfriend who often sends his tall, dark, and handsome assistant/consultant to pick her up for their dates...and you can see where this is going.

Lacey sits next to Santa Claus, known in the movie as "Chris," on her flight to meet workaholic boyfriend's mother during the holidays. Tall and handsome consultant is sent to pick her up, Santa tags along, and they get trapped in a town staffed by John Ratzenberger and Florence Henderson until they fall in love. And boyfriend gets true love, too, since he reunites with his high school girlfriend who is also a corporate workaholic and who his mother, Mary-Margaret Humes of Dawson's Creek and Motocrossed, likes more than Lacey Chabert anyway.

I only found two major flaws in this movie. One, Santa's powers to alter circumstances to bring about the fulfillment of Christmas wishes are fine, but the special effects to bring about some of those changes are super hokey. Two, the movie didn't leave itself enough time to wrap up nicely. The two new couples just meet up and confess the new relationships and everyone's happy about it. In about 20 seconds.

Matchmaker Santa is definitely worth a watch, if only for the charms and good looks of the lead male love interest. I think this newcomer deserves some more made-for-TV movies in his future. And I hope those movies don't feature him in this frilly apron. Or an elf costume.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas on TV: Speed-Watchers

My family's DVR has been filling up pretty quickly with me recording so many made-for-TV Christmas movies, so sometimes I have to choose which ones aren't worth spending two hours on (minus fast forwarding through commercials). Here are a few I recently watched on fast forward.

All She Wants for Christmas

Before the first commercial break, the main character trips over an inflatable snowman on the town square, it goes flying through the air with exceedingly bad CGI as she chases it all over town, and it lands on the car of her eventual love interest. The moment the snowman took off, I knew this was a Speed-Watcher. I watched enough to figure out that all the main character wants for Christmas is a tricked out stock portfolio, prestigious and high-paying job at the local toy company--and love. So of course she falls for the new-in-town blue collar toy factory worker who turns out to be a relative of the rich (translation: evil) family that is looking into shutting down the toy factory. When I watched the final scene and the main character is confessing how much finding love has changed her heart blah blah blah, I couldn't help my self from putting some words in her mouth: "I decided I don't need to make money on my own. I can marry into it just as easily." If you do catch it on TV, make sure you watch for a few seconds at least, though, since the main character is played by the actress who played Mary in While You Were Sleeping, only with blonde hair.

Deck the Halls (2005)

I'm embarrassed to say I watched nearly all of this one, especially since I was tempted to stop watching pretty soon into it. I think I kept watching because of Gabrielle Carteris from Beverley Hills, 90210. She wasn't actually a good enough reason to keep watching, but this one did have an ending that was easy to see coming in the middle of the movie but not what you would have guessed from reading the synopsis. There was even a part I watched twice: the horrible special effects that transformed her young bachelor neighbor into Kris Kringle himself. In sum, there were elves, there was a dog, the main character's name was Holly, and I've seen it all before. Also, there are several movies with this title, so be sure you're avoiding the right one.

Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus

On this movie, I fast-forwarded to all the parts where Steve Guttenberg is doing his awful Santa laughter. I do that every year just to remind myself how awful it is. Still bad.

A Different Kind of Christmas

Shelley Long's dad thinks he's Santa Claus. He has even memorized private information about the children in his neighborhood. Creeeepy! And that's pretty much where I stopped watching. Barry Bostwick also plays a major role, but nothing made me want to take the DVR out of fast forward mode, so I couldn't tell you how or why he and Shelley Long fell in love. There's a big Christmas tree on the town square at the end. The spirit of giving. Blah blah blah.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas on TV: Casting Isn't Everything

Several of the movies I've watched this season have plenty of actors you've actually heard of and seen before. But that hasn't made those movies amazing. Each of them is worth watching once, if nothing better is available. But their all-star casts prove that when it comes to holiday movies, writing is worth more than a big name.

November Christmas

The synopsis of this one did not sound like my kind of Christmas movie--a town bands together to bring a early Christmas to a terminally ill girl. Call me heartless, but I'm not a fan of movies about dying children because they are usually super sentimental. But the cast of this one made me take a chance: John Corbett, Karen Allen, Sarah Paulson, and Sam Elliott (who I honestly don't really know, but he's billed first and according to, he's been in a lot of westerns). I'd give it a four on the Sentimental Scale (with five or over being unwatchable to me) and an 8 on the Predictability Scale. But this movie was a good attempt at making a Christmas movie that really isn't about Christmas at all.

A Season for Miracles

This offering from the Hallmark Hall of Fame also features a surprisingly strong cast, at least on the feminine side. Carla Gugino from Night at the Smithsonian, Kathy Baker, Patty Duke, Laura Dern, and Mae Whitman in her pre-teen stage--even Lynn Redgrave. But ultimately the plot failed to capture my attention. The most captivating character was the love interest/town police officer. Overall, meh.

One Christmas (available on Netflix)

Although this movie is based on a Truman Capote story, even Katherine Hepburn (way past her On Golden Pond age) and Henry Winkler can't make it interesting. This Paper Moon knock-off falls in the category I call, "Netflix Movies that Make Great Background Noise." Just say no.

Christmas on TV: Holiday Spin

Lifetime's second Christmas movie this year is best described as a combination of every dance movie you've ever seen plus The Karate Kid.

But because I know you're more curious than that, let me break it down a little bit further.

How Holiday Spin is like The Karate Kid: It stars Ralph Macchio, the original Karate Kid and Dancing with the Stars alumni.

Also, Macchio's estranged son in the movie is training to be an MMA fighter. MMA is basically the new karate, and during the fighting sequences I found myself wishing the background music were "You're the Best" or even "Cruel Summer."

How Holiday Spin is like Step Up: A girl whose life centers entirely on dance falls for a bad boy who just happens to be great at dancing. 

How Holiday Spin is like Grease: At a holiday party, the good girl and boy get into a dance off with her ex-boyfriend (who looks like a creepy adult version of Bug Hall with diamond-studded earrings like Justin Timberlake's circa 1999) and his ethnic girlfriend. It might as well be Sandy and Danny versus Kinickie and Cha-Cha.

How Holiday Spin is like Dirty Dancing: The MMA fighter loves to dance in black pants and a black tank top. Patrick Swayze called. He wants his wardrobe back.

Even though Holiday Spin looks a feels like a dance movie mash-up, the holiday "spin" it puts on the genre makes up for it. The movie takes place in Miami (but sadly doesn't feature any cameo appearances by the cast of Dance Moms: Miami) so there are more palm trees than pine trees, but the final dance competition features holiday-themed ballroom dance costumes that are spot on. (The best dance in the show is by far Bug Hall/Kinickie's Christmas Quick Step. He should have won. He was robbed.)

Bottom-line: Either my mom or I predicted every major plot point, but we had a lot of fun guessing them along the way. And making references to The Karate Kid/Step Up/Grease/Dirty Dancing. Make some time for this one. Bonus points if you find a good place for a "Sweep the leg!" reference or a "Wax on, wax off."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christmas on TV: The Wishing Tree

Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie 2012 #3

Let's treat this one like a scorecard. It gains points for being innovative, interesting, or otherwise intriguing. It loses points for making me question elements of its production. Overall score determines whether it's Worth Watching or Worth Skipping.

Round one: What kind of English teacher reads classic novels over his winter break? Use that time to do something other than read. Minus 5.

Round two: Did the Hallmark Channel get a group rate on prep school uniforms this year? I'm guessing yes. See also Christmas Song. Minus 3.

Round three: What kind of English teacher dresses like a Victorian peasant, complete with soot on the face, to introduce the reading of A Christmas Carol? The great kind. Plus 10.

Round four: What kind of English class reads A Christmas Carol in high school? Minus 2.

Round five: Apparently, "The Wishing Tree" refers to a holiday tradition in the town where people can leave Christmas wishes at the tree. Very Letters to Juliet. Very Maeve Binchy's Whitethorn Woods, where the Irish town has an allegedly blessed well with the power to bring dreams to life. Plus 10.

Round six: Reference to Isadora Duncan. Plus 2.

Round six and a half: Wearing Burger King crowns at a holiday party. Minus 2.

Round seven: Who is this woman the English teacher is making out with all of the sudden? Most likely, his dead wife. Too Charlie St. Cloud. Also, dream sequences are for 80s sitcoms and dance sequences in Rogers and Hammerstein films. Minus 15.

Round eight: I realize that the privileged but overlooked kid has hair like Young Snape. I think you can tell which one's him. Minus 7.

Round nine: The female prep student is named Juliet. Minus 4.

Round ten: Predictable reference to The Three Musketeers--"All for one, and one for all." Minus 3.

And that's the first thirty minutes, after which I stopped paying close attention. But I did assign a few more points for moments that caught my attention in some way.

Round eleven: A random character blames the lack of Christmas treats on "the economy." Minus 5.

Round twelve: One character has an evil villain mother who dresses entirely in pink fur and pink sunglasses. Minus 12.

Round thirteen: I realize that this movie is a knock-off of Dead Poet's Society because the Evil Pink Mom says English teacher is encouraging her son to "think for himself." Plus 12.

Round fourteen: Juliet rocks a version of "Someday" from West Side Story in a dress that likely belonged to June Cleaver. Suddenly her name being Juliet makes sense. Plus 15.

Round fourteen and a half: Potential love triangle revealed during "Someday." Plus 5.

Round fifteen: Evil Pink Mom says, "I'm not spending Christmas at Hogwarts." Plus 7. 

Round sixteen: Snape and Juliet nearly share their first kiss in a chapel. Minus 2.

Round seventeen: Suddenly, English teacher is saving Snape from an abandoned building. A little too Outsiders without the bonus of the Brat Pack members. Minus 8.

Overall Score: Negative 7. So, not a great one. In fairness, the minuses do come from fairly nitpick-y critiques, and it avoided overwhelming predictability...but it also left me not feeling very connected to any of the characters--and I'd say that's the number one thing that makes one of this hokey holiday movies triumph: characters you can cheer for.

Christmas on TV: The Christmas Consultant

Lifetime is probably third on my list of go-to channels for made-for-TV Christmas movies, behind Hallmark and ABC Family. Some of Lifetime's Christmas flicks are highly watchable; some are shames to the genre of made-for-TV Christmas. They are pretty hit or miss.

Lifetime's first offering this season, The Christmas Consultant starring Caroline Rhea and David Hasselhoff, is a miss. Big time.

I can think of only one reason to watch this movie: a chance to see David Hasselhoff in the quirky wardrobe of a man who gets paid to plan other people's Christmases. Bright green jeans. Ugly Christmas sweaters. Plaid bow ties. Hipster glasses with red brims.

So instead of wasting words on this waste of a movie, I'll share some pictures with you and save you the trouble of watching for yourself.

You're welcome.