Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Update/An Explanation

You may have noticed my dedication to TV Christmas movie reviewing has waned somewhat this year.

Well, let's just say I had a very busy weekend. And because of that very busy weekend, I foresee many similarly busy weekends in the near future.

I apologize for any inconvenience. But not much. Because that busy weekend involved a boy and several kisses and a permanent butterfly in my stomach ever since. Which is pretty much the stuff that TV Christmas movies are made of, so I don't feel like I'm missing much.

I'll catch up when I can, but in the meantime, I'll let Harry Connick Jr. explain how my heart feels about it all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Christmas on TV: A Very Merry Mix-Up

I need to open with a disclaimer: I didn't see the first 30 minutes of this one. But I'm guessing they wouldn't change my opinion much. That said, let's dive in.

In A Very Merry Mix-Up, Alicia Witt gets engaged and heads across country to meet her in-laws to-be. Her fiancé can't come with her, so she's forced to make the trip alone. Naturally, she meets a handsome man who has the same last name as her fiancé and who she believes to be his brother. Thus, the mix-up and the resulting complications.

By the time she realizes her potential brother-in-law is not actually her potential brother-in-law, they've already spent nearly 2 days together. Obviously, they're in love.

Actually, what's obvious is that she should question why she had no idea what her fiance's family looks like. What's obvious is that she should wonder how she agreed to marry a man who only wants to use her as leverage in a property deal. What's obvious is that she comes across as a dim-witted heroine who's barely capable of making adult decisions.

The end of these movies is always predictable, but I found myself siding with the money-obsessed fiancé more than the main character. Yes, he's the villain because he wants to demolish a city block to make way for new condos. I get it: he's the Grinch.

But she wasn't letting logic in at all. He was offering her $3.5 million dollars for her father's antique store and storefront space to open a new location. It takes the romance out of it, but that's just good business. Sentimental value only goes so far, even at Christmas.

On a side note, you may remember Alicia Witt as the red-headed clarinet girl from Mr. Holland's Opus. I also recently watched her in another Hallmark Channel movie, Backyard Wedding.

Of the three roles, I like her best in Mr. Holland's Opus. It might have been Richard Dreyfuss. Or it might be that in both her Hallmark roles Alicia plays a woman who changes her mind about who she wants to marry in a very short time after dating someone for a very long time.

I know: that's the stuff rom-coms are made of, but these films made me question my love of the rom-com genre. These movies made it impossible for me to get behind a woman who jumps so quickly from one marriage prospect to another. I can't do it when she knew the first guy for years but the movie makes it obvious from the get-go she shouldn't have dated him more than 3 times.

Essentially, A Very Merry Mix-Up failed to do what movies like While You Were Sleeping and You've Got Mail did flawlessly. It's okay for Sandra Bullock to switch from Peter Gallagher to Bill Pullman because she only loved Peter Gallagher from afar. It's okay for Meg Ryan to break up with Greg Kinnear because they obviously shared a love of words and the break-up was mutual.

My disappointment in A Very Merry Mix-Up also stems from the vague resemblance this movie bears to the fake Christmas romance created last year for a Sears commercial, a movie I wholeheartedly wish were real. Maybe I would have liked A Merry Mix-Up better if it took place entirely at the airport. Probably not.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Christmas on TV: The Thanksgiving House

Despite having only blogged 4 times this year, I'm back because 'tis the season for delightful new Christmas movies delivered directly to your TV every weekend for the rest of the year. I. Am. Giddy.

The Hallmark Channel kicked the festivities off this year with The Thanksgiving House, the story of a holiday-hating lawyer who inherits a house built on the land where the first Thanksgiving (possibly) took place.

I wasn't blown away by the female lead; her character came across a little cold to me, but that could just be my bias against characters who hate the holiday season. But, her name is Emily Rose, which sounds like an old-lady perfume, so I'm not going to hold it against her.

This movie compensated for its icy heroine with Justin Bruening, known in the movie as Everett Mather, which sounds like a law firm. Last year Justin assumed the role of Teddy Lawrence in the TV Christmas version of Little Women, The March Sisters at Christmas. I made fun of him then for donning a toga, but this year his autumnal wardrobe redeems him of his former fashion sins.

I criticized Everett at first when I suspected that his passion for Pilgrim-era archaeology meant he was a jobless late-twentysomething living with his parents. Even though those parents are the Bionic Woman and Tron. But, he proved me wrong, working as a high school history teacher who holds down his own apartment. What a catch!

Emily Rose, aka Mary Ross, needs three-quarters of the movie to realize she should ditch her tricky boyfriend with a bad accent for nice-guy Everett. But, when she does, baddie boyfriend delivers the movie's most quotable line: "Color me gone."

The Thanksgiving House earns points for having a creative premise, but none of the interaction between  our bickering lovebirds had an equal level of creativity. You always know who's going to fall in love in these movies, but at the conclusion of this one I wasn't sold that they shared more than a warm affection and a desire to date through, say, St. Patrick's Day.

Still, I give the movie points for relying on plausible legal battles and emotional growth to create a plot instead of orphaned children and magical North Pole dwellers.

All in all, The Thanksgiving House was a pleasant way to kick off the TV Christmas movie season for 2013. I much prefer last year's Teddy Lawrence as this year's high school history teacher, and the scenes of Boston in the fall make this movie worth a watch.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Times Are Getting Better

It's been a while since I written anything about my actual life, but I've been mulling over this post for a while. Well, at least the last month, which has been one of the greatest of my life.

It all started after a 4th of July weekend at home. Towards the end of the trip, I had an intense discussion with my mom about my desires for the future--how I feared they'd never become realities. We both cried, but my stubbornness refused to let her empathy resolve any hard feelings I carried in my heart. I take the blame for that.

Still, the next day driving home with a friend, I felt guilty about the lack of faith I'd exhibited in the conversation with my mom. My friend and I began discussing how I could be more faithful about dating...when inspiration struck. I heard these words (or something like them) begin to come out of my mouth, but I knew they were from a Higher Source:
I just wish I didn't struggle with the same problem over and over again. It feels like no matter how much progress I make, I still fall down again and have to get back up. But, if I'm honest, I guess it's like a an Olympic swimmer or track athlete. The exact nature of what I'm struggling against will never change very much. But my times are getting better. I'm swimming faster. I'm picking myself up more quickly when I fall. I'm even reacting differently when I do fall and have moments of doubt and fear.
That epiphany has sat inside my soul ever since. It reminds me of the sequence of events leading up to Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile. He ran as much as possible but still couldn't seem to break the barrier. Then, he took a small break for a hiking trip somewhere in northern England. The trip not only recharged his inspiration but also altered his mindset. Something inside him shifted away from believing sub-4-minutes was an inhuman barrier. (If that's not exactly what happened, blame the fact that I read The Perfect Mile over 5 years ago. That's how I remember it, and now that means more to me.)

My metaphorical inspiration similarly changed my mindset. In that instant, I went from believing I had very little control over my romantic future to realizing I could do a lot to change it.

Thus began my shortest journey to a date.

Let's flashback a bit to introduce a new character. I'll call him Jackson, but that's not his name. Jackson goes to church with me. I don't remember the first time I noticed him, but whenever it was, I thought he was the best-looking guy in the congregation. This was also before the epiphany, so I also thought he was (1) out of my league and (2) probably had the personality and brains of a the most popular guy on the football team, which is to say, not much of either. Looking back now, those thoughts came from knowing nothing about him and trying to protect myself against liking him. It worked, but only for a short time.

See, I started getting to know Jackson when he joined a group of my friends and acquaintances at a Monday-night church activity. He and others piled into my car and took a trip to campus for a scavenger hunt of interesting sites and circumstances. After actually interacting with him that night instead of judging/assuming from afar, I realized he was both cute and nice. And part of me was hooked.

Of course, that part of me is the part of me incapable (until recently) of interacting with boys once she develops a mild crush on them. Embarrassing, crippling, sad, but true. A few weeks later, I for some reason confessed my crush to some girlfriends. I never do that. But they were pressuring me to say someone, anyone, and Jackson was the name I confessed.

That was right before the 4th of July weekend trip, the unpleasant Mom conversation, and the inspiring friend conversation. But, it required one more catalyst to really get the ball rolling, connect the dots between my crush on Jackson and my agency-activating epiphany.

One Sunday night, after I failed once again to interact with Jackson at various regular Sunday night church activities, a friend and a roommate-friend were discussing their plans to ask boys on a group date. The bravest part of myself (the part which is usually a mute observer) spoke up and said I wanted to join in. Although my immediate thought was "I hate the pressure of having to ask a boy on a date," I was committed. Quickly, our topic of conversation switched from what we'd do to who we'd ask. Several hours of MASH and Face Card Fortune-Telling later, I knew Jackson was my heart's most-desired date for this upcoming event.

But, I still hadn't interacted with him much aside from the short-lived and now distantly-in-the-past scavenger hunt. Enter a plethora of church activities where I (gasp) purposely interacted with Jackson.
  • I made sure to get on his boat when we went sailing. (Yes, we went sailing. The most perfect Monday night of my life. I actually held hands with Jackson and another eligible bachelor as we jumped into the lake. I could have died. From. Luck.)
  • I gave him my best "Come Hither" eyes and moves at a dance party the following night.
  • I intentionally sat next to him at church.
  • I had multiple short conversations with him at Sunday night dessert parties.
  • My roommate and I baked cookies for him and another boy she was trying to lay some groundwork with.
  • Jackson thanked us for making the cookies, looking directly at me the whole time.
  • Jackson made the best Dutch oven peach cobbler in the world at another Monday night event, and I purposely thanked him.
Readers, I never get my flirt on that consistently or persistently. It may not seem like much, but to me that was concerted effort. Granted, my roommates and friend had to nudge me almost every step of the way because those darn dancing butterflies in my stomach wouldn't sit still. (Do butterflies sit?) But, for the most part, I didn't chicken out.

Jackson never gave back the plate we used to bring him cookies, giving me the perfect excuse to text him and ask for it back. I used that interaction to ask him his plans for the weekend and set a date for Friday night. Strangely enough, I was less nervous during the actual asking out than I had been through all the little moments of interaction preceding it. Go figure.

What with one thing and another, my roommate and friend secured their own dates, but not for the same night I'd set up with Jackson. Luckily, he'd arranged to change the venue of our date anyway, having gotten some tickets from his job to a dinner theatre showing of "Annie Get Your Gun." Basically, what was going to be a super casual group date turned into a legit dream date with, no joke, the best-looking guy I've ever been out with.

Now for the actual date. Honestly, this part is too fresh for me to relieve in detail on a blogpost. I'm not going to give a play-by-play. Sorry. My prerogative. Here are some vague descriptions to give you a general idea of the night. Imagine what you will with them.
  • Our conversation was decent but not amazing. I felt like I was asking most of the questions, a hard thing to balance without going into journalist mode and forgetting to reveal anything about myself.
  • He wasn't giving me the same looks I'd had from him in the few weeks leading up to our date. You know, his eyes didn't sparkle when they looked my way and he wasn't smiling with glee at the luck he'd struck to be out with me. But, somehow my heart was okay with that.
  • We sat close but not cuddled up during the show. He laughed at the right parts and has quite an appreciation of theatre. Another thing for the plus column.
  • I got more details about him as a person. Age, family, major, job, etc. These are things I'd wanted to know but never had a chance to ask.
The best conversation occurred as we drove home from the night. We hugged good-night, not a strong embrace but one that fit the tone of the date. 

As I sat rehashing and analyzing with my roommates, I realized I was happy with whatever comes next and I don't feel pressured to keep flirting with Jackson so he'll fall madly in love with me. I just wanted to get to know him better and find out if my crush had any legs for us to form a relationship on. I'm still not sure; it almost feels like only the surfaces of our true and complete personalities were on that date last night. He actually has both personality and brains in addition to looking genuinely handsome 100% of the time. He just seems like a complete, well-rounded guy. I couldn't tell you which part of him is most impressive. It all just fits.

But, I'm also not heartbroken over not having made huge strides with him. Sorry if I set you up to believe I was about to tell the story of my first kiss/boyfriend. Truly, my efforts during the last 3 weeks which culminated in last night actually just prove to me that my times have improved immeasurably since I started trying to interact with Jackson instead of just mildly hoping he'd notice my amazing qualities from afar. That is the true story of July (and part of August) 2013.  I discovered that I can flirt in my own way and it's both terrifying and fun like a roller coaster. And, like a roller coaster, it's not going to kill me.

If you'd told me a month ago I'd be on a date with Jackson last night, I wouldn't have believed you. But, if you told me today I could be on another date with Jackson or different man I'm attracted to within the next month, I'd know it's actually possible. So, stay tuned. This ride is about to get really interesting.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Get another piece of pie for your wife...

I have an irrational crush on Mike Ross. What can I say? He's brilliant and he looks good--GOOD--in a suit. See below.

After Twitter stalking the real Patrick J. Adams, however, I'm not sure we'd be friends. That's okay. As my high school economics teacher used to say, "I got enough friends."

Even so, I'm looking forward to this season of Suits mostly because of the suits. See above.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Top 10 Reasons to Love Melissa & Joey

I don't mind reveling in childhood nostalgia. And we all know I indulge in plenty of less-than-Emmy-worthy TV movies.

Mash those two things together and what do you discover? I am a big fan of ABC Family's sitcom Melissa & Joey.

This show actually premiered while I was away on my mission. But thanks to the magic of Hulu, I found it the summer after my return and got hooked after viewing the first set of episodes.

Melissa & Joey stars Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence. They also work as executive producers on the show, and Melissa has even directed a few episodes. These actors have more in common than their decently funny ABC Family Original Movie, My Fake Fiancé. Both Melissa and Joey have played major characters on some cult favorite family sitcoms.

Take Joey, for instance. He started out as Joey Donovan on Gimme a Break! (a sitcom I willingly admit knowing nothing about).

Gotta love the hair. And the family resemblance.

Later he played Mayim Bialik's older, somewhat brainless brother, Joey Russo.


The role I remember him best for is Joe Roman on Brotherly Love. This series also starred Joey's two real-life brothers, Matt and Andy. (Insert swoon here for the Lawrence brother of your choice.)

Andy's haircut looks so familiar...

Based on previous experience, it shouldn't shock you that Joey's character on Melissa & Joey is also named Joe: Joe Longo. Why mess with a good thing?

Melissa has fewer starring roles than Joey, but her series' had somewhat longer lives, so in my book they're about even.

Melissa first appeared in the Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All. This show featured Zack Morris-like asides directed straight at home viewers. It also predates Dawson's Creek as a teen series where a best friend of the opposite sex enters the main character's bedroom through a window.

Double whoa. So many neons.

And who can forget Melissa in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch? I myself was obsessed with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch from second through sixth grade.

My best friend and I collectively swooned over Sabrina's boyfriend, Harvey--though, looking at him now, I'm not sure why. I guess he was just one of our first major forays into the world of celebrity crushes. I'm happy to say my taste has gotten better even if the intensity of my crushes hasn't decreased as I've aged.

With all of that behind them, Melissa and Joey make the perfect "Will they? Won't they?" couple for a formulaic multi-camera sitcom. In a sense, Melissa & Joey brings back the feeling of ABC's old programming block, TGIF. Boy Meets  World, Step By Step, Family Matters, Full House, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch all featured prominently in the golden age of TGIF. Even though Joey never appeared in a TGIF sitcom, his roles on Blossom and Brotherly Love seem so similar they might as well have been TGIF material.

Plus, Melissa & Joey is essentially Who's the Boss? for the new millennium.

Melissa's the career-minded city councilwoman raising her jailed sister's teenaged kids, and Joe's the masculine nanny who can't find work because of his connections to a financial scandal. Take away the live-in grandma and it's the same show.

In case you aren't already hooked on Melissa & Joey like me, I'm giving you a list of the 10 best episodes so far, a sort of Must-See List for anyone who loves or wants to love this show.

10. Toledo's Next Top Model

It feels strange describing this episode first since it doesn't feature a prominent Mel and Joe story line. But I find myself laughing at small moments in this one, the kind of moments that make Melissa & Joey so enjoyable.

Why It's Good: Joe coaches Ryder on how to get a girlfriend.

Important Events: Ryder's girlfriend, Holly, makes her first appearance.

Guest Star: Vivica A. Fox as a modeling agent who recruits Mel's niece, Lennox.

9. Teacher/Teacher

Guest Star: Andrew Lawrence as Ryder's history teacher

Why It's Good: Andrew Lawrence. He tells jokes, he sings, he wears hipster-ish glasses. I submit that he's never looked this good.

Important Events: Did I mention Andy Lawrence is in the episode?

8. Waiting for Mr. Right

Why It's Good: Not-so-subtle hints about Mel and Joe's similar interests and Joe's willingness to run to her rescue mean this episode keeps you cheering for the romantic tension between the stars.

Important Events: Watch for the vending machine scene. One of my favorites.

Guest star: Christine Lakin of Step by Step makes her first appearance as Mel's old friend

7. Dancing with the Stars of Toledo

Why It's Good: Joey Lawrence and Melissa Joan Hart both did stints on the actual Dancing with the Stars before returning to scripted sitcoms. Enjoy watching what would have happened if they'd been paired as celebrity dance partners.

Important Events: It's not written into the episode, but after I watched this episode I knew I was hooked on the show.

Guest Star: Mark Ballas from the real Dancing with the Stars

6. Joe vs. the Reunion

Why It's Good: Melissa tries to rescue Joe from looking unsuccessful at his college reunion--with not-so-awesome results. Listen for a reference to their first joint venture, My Fake Fiancé. 

Important Events: Mel and Joe's first kiss, albeit a "fake" one

5. All Up in My Business

Why It's Good: Concerned about Mel's secretive behavior, Joe uncovers the truth behind her mysterious credit card charges. And gets her a thoughtful present at the end of the episode.

Important Events: Shirtless Joe (from Hannibal, MO--I couldn't help myself with the Damn Yankees! reference.)

Guest Stars: More of Ryder's girlfriend, Holly. He gets her an unfortunate birthday present. Also, the introduction of Lennox's future boyfriend with a pretentious name: Haskell.

4. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Why It's Good: Mel asks Joe to make her boyfriend more manly so she can break up with him without crushing his spirit. But when he starts acting more like Joe, Mel suddenly finds she's more attracted than she thought. My love for this episode actually has less to do with Melissa and Joey and more to do with the hilarious transformation portrayed by the actor playing Mel's boyfriend.

Important Events: Melissa Joan Hart channels her inner Melissa Gilbert by wearing a dress clearly inspired by Little House on the Prairie. Also, Ryder turns the tables on Holly after learning she cheated on him. And a Dancing with the Stars reference!

Guest Star: The guy playing Mel's boyfriend! Seriously, I want him to star in my first made-for-TV Christmas movie.

3. Going the Distance

Why It's Good: Mel faces a crisis when her young entrepreneur boyfriend gets offered a job in Italy.

Important Events: Joe unveils how well he knows Mel when he gives her boyfriend gift-buying advice.

Guest Star: Scott Michael Foster, that guy from Greek with super-ugly hair but a fun personality.

2. The Settlement

Why It's Good: Mel and Joe are more expressive of their attraction to one another when Joe reveals he can leave his post as nanny.

Important Events: Mel and Joe (kind of) agree to go on a date with each other. Mel kisses Joe, but dismisses it as a good-bye.

Listen for: Joey saying "Whoa." To. Die. For.

1. The Other Longo

Why It's Good: Joe's brother comes into town and hits it off with Mel. Jealousy ensues, but Joe hedges his feelings for Mel.

Important Events: This isn't vital to any overarching plot line, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the moment when Joey and Matt do their "Amazing Longo Brothers routine." TV gold, people.

Guest Stars: Matthew Lawrence! Matthew Lawrence! Matthew Lawrence!

Friday, April 5, 2013

If this doesn't make sense, just know I wrote it during a bout of lonely insomnia. Cheers.

There's a part of my brain that turns on at 12:30 in the morning sometimes. This part of my brain is intimately intertwined with whatever part of my body holds onto my deepest dreams and desires. This part of my brain never chooses a regular time of day to recognize how mirage-like those dreams and desires appear.

This part of my brain is a night owl. It likes to stay up late and have its say, and there aren't many voices that can quiet it.

This part of my brain is the meanest part of me, the voice of Simon Cowell, conjuring up its darkest English wit to demean and belittle when I am most vulnerable. In other words, when I am tired. When I have spent the day valiantly fighting off thought-demons of self-deprecation and faithlessness. When I have laughed multiple times in the face of a doom-and-gloom hopeless future and said, "No! I am awesome, and I don't need a boyfriend or a completed checklist of life accomplishments or a degree from a prestigious university (which I might technically have anyway) to confirm that awesomeness."

At 12:30 in the morning, this part of my brain mimics Heidi Klum's ice queen voice and whispers, only whispers, "As you know in Awesome, one day you're in and the next you're out," putting oh-so-slight emphasis on those last two words.

But it's now 2 o'clock. And I think that part of my brain is getting drowsy again. So I'll kindly put him to sleep. And I'll remind him that life isn't scripted like a Hallmark Channel movie, so it's not predictable. Which makes it unsettling, yes. And scary, you bet. But also full of possibility, instead of forced to fit a pattern.

Good night, dear brain, dear voice, dear void. I feel you'll be my companion throughout life. But I'm going to fill you with so many fulfilled dreams and lived desires that even Bravo won't consider you worthy of a reality show. I certainly don't find you entertaining.