Tag Archives: female directors

To The Stars

Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) is a social pariah at her high school. The 1960s were perhaps not an easy time for any woman, as evidenced by her mom, an abusive drunk who feels trapped by domesticity, and the townswomen, whose sole occupation seems to be malicious gossip, and the woman who haunts the local swimming pond after having committed suicide there, but Iris has it even worse, an outcast because her weak bladder has earned her the nickname Stinky Pants and is a daily embarrassment.

Luckily, a new girl in town, Maggie (Liana Liberato), seems reluctant to write Iris off just because all the mean girls instruct her to. And because Maggie’s big city mystique is so strong, other people start reconsidering her as well. But Maggie’s hiding some pretty major secrets of her own, and only Iris knows that she’s been lying…for now, anyway. These might still be young girls, but they’re dealing with some pretty hefty life problems, and life isn’t exactly going out of its way to be fair to them.

Martha Stephens’ beautiful movie is a tribute to female friendship and how just one friend can mean the difference between wretched loneliness and validation. Between her mother the kids at school, Iris is cowed by the cruelty, she lives shrunkenly, hunched over, avoiding all and any attention. Maggie is a necessary reminder that there is more than small town Oklahoma. A friend, for Iris, is hope. Hope that life won’t always be like this. If just one other person understands us, life doesn’t feel so alone. Hayward and Liberato serve up terrific performances, not despite their young age but because of it – only when we are teenagers do we believe that now will translate to always. It’s a bleak film that hides a positive message, one that needn’t be heard solely by teenage girls in the 60s, but by anyone who despairs that life will always feel empty. It won’t. Look up to the stars and have faith.

Wonder Woman 1984

It’s been 70 years since we last saw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s working at the Smithsonian in cultural anthropology and archeology, she’s doing her hero work on the down-low, and she’s been missing her sweetie, Steve. She’s been missing him for 70 long years.

Her new colleague at work, the meek and self-conscious Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is a gemologist doing a little investigative work for the FBI. The stone itself is worthless, but it claims to be a wish-granter, a dream stone, and both Barbara and Diana make wishes on it before they realize its true potential. Diana, of course, wakes up beside Steve (Chris Pine), but Barbara wakes up cool and powerful and strong, like Diana, although wishing to be like Diana does come with a little more than she bargained for.

Anyway, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), greedy 80s business man, seemed to know the stone’s possibilities very well, which is why he cozies up to Barbara in order to snatch it. With infinite wishes at his disposal, Lord becomes overwhelmingly powerful and practically unbeatable – especially since the wishes seem to extract something from the wisher, and Diana’s been growing weaker. Barbara, meanwhile, is growing stronger, but also shrewder, meaner. And Lord’s finding ways to increase his reach, taking his avarice international, influencing entire nations, not to mention enemies.

In fighting Max Lord, Wonder Woman is fighting pure greed, corruption, and the world’s obsession with more. Wonder Woman has always been more than capable at taking down villains with her expertly applied kicks and punches and of course her trusty lasso. But how do you fight concepts, idealogy, or human nature? This presents an interesting challenge that even Wonder Woman hasn’t seen before.

Gal Gadot is of course absolute perfection as both Diana and Wonder Woman. Having spent the past 70 years among humans, she is of course more jaded, more knowing, but she’s also more human herself, subject to the same loneliness that anyone would be if they’d been grieving for seven decades, and reluctant to get close to anyone because of it. She’s become more familiar with her strength and her abilities, and puts her weapons (tiara, lasso) to greater use. To win, Wonder Woman will have to flex not just her muscle, but also her ingenuity, and harder still, her faith in humanity’s inherent goodness despite plenty of evidence otherwise.

Kristen Wiig is well-cast as Barbara Minerva, a woman who is tired of being overlooked. As she transitions into the film’s co-villain, Cheetah, her confidence and her newfound powers race to outstrip each other, and we see her grow into her new role, wearing her new power like a mantle, like the fur coats she’s begun to adopt.

As for Pedro Pascal, it’s just nice to see his face for once. He understands that Max Lord doesn’t have to be evil to be a great villain. Villains who go around murdering and pillaging are easy to identify and unanimously reviled. But a villain who gives the people what they want will get away with a whole lot more. Since eliminating Lord would also mean negating their own wishes, people like Cheetah, who would otherwise perhaps not be on his side, are willing to fight for him to protect their own interests. Pascal puts a charming face on greed and desire, convincing an awful lot of people to wish for things they probably know they shouldn’t.

Director Patty Jenkins’ action sequences remain divine, but she’s not afraid to remind us that Wonder Woman, unlike some super heroes who shall remain nameless, is about more than just brawn or fancy gadgets; she’s got heart, and not just her own strong sense of right and wrong, but an impressive belief that ultimately humanity will share it and choose it as well.

In flashbacks, we saw a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in Amazonian warrior games, where she learned that she couldn’t win until she was truly ready. What will the grown up Diana be asked to give in order to win, what sacrifices will she make for people who will never know or appreciate it, and how will she fight differently when she actually has something to lose? Seventy years among humans will change a woman, even a Wonder Woman.

If you’re in the U.S., Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream on HBO Max. In Canada, it’s available as a premium rental. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.

Christmas In Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing

Just a reminder: Evergreen is not just a Christmas-forward small American town, it’s also the setting of one of Hallmark’s shared universes. The Evergreen series tells different townspeople’s stories, but you’ll almost always see some familiar faces in town.

Michelle (Holly Robinson Peete) is busy putting the finishing touches on her upcoming Christmas Eve wedding and hosting her family from out of town, who are shockingly Christmas-averse. She’s grateful to be able to lean on Hannah (Rukiya Bernard) for the last details of the new museum launch. You won’t be too surprised to find out that Evergreen is indeed opening a Christmas museum (gotta attract that year-round tourism!). Slight hiccup though: Jenny and Josie Cooper have donated their family’s old hat making factory to house the museum, but suddenly their brother Jeb shows up in town to foil the whole thing.

Okay, that’s not exactly the only hiccup. There’s also the fact that Michelle’s fiance seems to be snowed out of town. It’s seeming increasingly unlikely that he’ll make it back in time for his own wedding! Meanwhile, Hannah’s starting to question her own future. She and fiance Elliot (Antonio Cayonne) are one of the town’s romantic success stories, but it seems that he’s got ambitions leading him away from Evergreen – and thus, from her.

Will Michelle be alone at the altar? Will Hannah be alone forever? Will Jeb’s shame about his hat making failure prevent the town from enjoying its museum? You can probably guess the answer to these questions but if you’d like to have your hunches confirmed, be sure to visit the Hallmark channel and watch Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing.

A Godwink Christmas: Second Chance, First Love

I love that Hallmark has developed some shared universes within its catalogue; we discovered it first with the Evergreen series, but the Godwink one has even more entries. Godwinks, just so you know, are those coincidences in life that aren’t coincidences, they’re God pushing you toward something, if only you take the time to listen.

After 15 years away, Pat (Sam Page) moves back home, and in with his mother, with his two young sons. Divorced and having sold his business in Hawaii, he’s a little untethered, looking for a new job and somewhere to put down roots. He does not expect God to intervene, and put him repeatedly into the path of his high school sweetheart, Margie (Brooke D’Orsay). Margie and Pat parted ways after high school because they wanted different things – he wanted adventure and travel, she expected to follow a more traditional and stable life path, college and then committing to a company you could spend the rest of your life working for. Now that they’re being nudged back together, can they possibly find a way to make it work, or are they still too different?

Well, it’s Hallmark, so we already know they’re getting together, but if there was any question, know that her biggest personality quirk is constantly losing pieces of jewelry, and he’s the guy who seems to find it. So it’s practically ordained. It’s just too bad she’ll have to discard a perfectly good boyfriend to do it. Hallmark usually makes the current boyfriend at least a little villainous so we don’t feel bad when she inevitably dumps him, but Scott (Zahf Paroo) seems like a pretty stand-up guy. It almost had me wishing that just this once, Hallmark would surprise us by chucking out the formula and having the leads not magically fall in love with each other in a matter of three short days, but stay with their respective respectable partners and agree to remain very good friends. Just once, Hallmark. Make it happen.

Christmas On Wheels

Ashley (Tiya Sircar) thought she was fine if her uncle got rid of some of her dead mom’s stuff, but learning that her Mom’s cherry-red vintage convertible, affectionally known as the sleigh, has been sold fills her with unexpected regret. So she does the only thing that makes sense. She enlists the help of her uncle’s attorney/estate appraiser, Duncan (Michael Xavier), to track it down and get it back.

The path toward the car has exactly one twist and one turn, but they’re inspiring enough for Ashley to remember why the car was so special to her and her mother in the first place. As a kid, her mother would fundraise and buy gifts for all the families in need, and make a special delivery on Christmas Eve, the convertible loaded down with cheerfully wrapped presents. Ashley decides to honour her mother’s memory with her own present ride. But with only a few days to raise the money and buy the gifts, how will she make it work? Ashley and Duncan put their heads together not to mention their mutual love of antiques to make this Christmas season one the community won’t soon forget.

Of course there’s never any real danger that the couple won’t fall in love or the kids won’t get their gifts. There is, however, some question as to whether the car is haunted or if it’s just sentient and bossy. It is quite beautiful though. Sircar and Xavier are likeable leads and the film has a nice message about communal giving and caring for others, which is always a bonus at Christmas.

The Angel Tree

Hallmark imagines that Christmas is a time replete with journalists just desperate for soft, holiday-themed “news.” They’re visiting small town bed and breakfasts, boarding cross-country trains, trying to reunite lost items with their owners, sleeping on war ships, solving charity mysteries, hunting for vintage jewelry, and more. This particular writer, Rebecca (Jill Wagner), has been assigned to go back to her hometown and crack the top secret identity of the person granting wishes that are placed upon the town’s angel tree.

The Angel tree is a tradition that’s been going on now for decades. It was in effect when Rebecca was a child – and it seems she might the only one for whom the angel tree didn’t work. She wished that her family wouldn’t move away, but they did, and she’s kind of been harbouring a sort of resentment ever since. But for many, many others, perhaps 40 or 50 a year, the wishes have magically come true. Since Rebecca’s been writing about it, however, a lot of extra attention has meant a lot of extra wishes. And no matter who the mysterious benefactor is – and the townspeople are very protective of his or her identity – they couldn’t possibly provide for that many people. So Rebecca enlists the help of her aunt, her daughter, and her childhood friend, Matthew (Lucas Bryant) to take care of some of the overflow.

You might guess that Rebecca and Matthew engage in some pretty heavy reconnecting while doing good for their community. But will their budding romance survive Rebecca’s needling? Will she really betray the community’s secret? Will she get fired if she doesn’t? Will anyone be able to grant Matthew’s nephew’s wish, that his deployed mother join him for Christmas? And aren’t there some things in life just better left as mysteries anyway? Find out with The Angel Tree.

Snowcapped Christmas

Claire Benson (Leah Renee) is a figure skater about to get her shot at the gold at nationals – and then, on to the Olympics. But an injury right before a crucial competition sidelines her, sends her to the mountains to recover at a rehab facility, in fact. It might be a nice place to decompress, reassess, oh, and heal – if only Claire’s coach wasn’t such a villainous villain! He’s going to ride her just as hard, injury or no injury.

Thankfully Claire’s mom Dale (Lisa Whelchel) is around to pull her toward some more relaxation and recreation, and so is a handsome dude who seems to be the facility (and the town’s!) jack of all trades. Turns out Luke (Niall Matter) is an ex hockey player, so it would seem that he more than anyone would understand Claire’s predicament. Claire’s been having doubts about continuing with the sport, and it’s nice having someone to confide in. Plus, Luke’s daughter is a total cutie herself, it’s possible that this little family is awakening certain feelings in Claire – like maybe skating isn’t everything, like maybe there’s something missing from her life, and maybe she’s ready to have it.

Will mean coach Julian let her follow her dreams? Will her mother find a true love of her own? Will Claire fail to heed posted signage and nearly fall through some thin ice? I mean, they can’t all be spoilers, can they? Only a trip to your local Hallmark channel will answer all these burning questions and more.

Five Star Christmas

Lucy (Bethany Joy Lenz) and the rest of her siblings are surprised to arrive home for the holidays and find that dad Walter (Robert Wisden) has turned their family home into a bed and breakfast. It’s newly opened and floundering a bit, so when they hear a renowned travel writer is in town, they know a review from her could make or break dad’s business. When she checks in under pseudonym Beth (Laura Soltis), Lucy’s siblings pitch in to either pose as staff or as guests to make the bed and breakfast seem more successful than it is. The only legitimate guest is a guy named Jake (Victor Webster). Sparks fly between Lucy and Jake (well, this being Hallmark, sparks is probably pushing it – picture something a little more akin to a 10 second burst in the microwave, warm but definitely not hot – but the trouble is, her whole family has had to keep up the ruse of being unrelated staff and guests, so their relationship, fledgling as it may be, has started out with a lie, and a pretty big one.

This movie is a little zanier than most Hallmark romances, mostly because the family members are all in character, and apparently some of them have a flair for the dramatic. Except grandpa Walter (Jay Brazeau) who has a flair for the dementia, and there’s no telling what’ll pop out of his mouth at any given moment.

Can a relationship survive a lie about one’s identity? Can a bed and breakfast review survive a brush with grandpa Walt? Do bed and breakfast guests really want to spend as much time together as owners think they do? And how would you feel if your parents secretly turned your childhood bedroom into a rental unit?

Hallmark has one formula for finding love and happiness at Christmas, but there are many variations on the theme of how to get there, and this one has be wanting to pose as my own wacky hotel guest. If you do your own Five Star Christmas cosplay, may I suggest you stay away from accents – those are always harder than you think.

Holly & Ivy

Melody (Janel Parrish) has just moved in next door to a single mom with two adorable daughters, the eponymous Holly and Ivy. Melody and mom Nina (Marisol Nichols) are fast friends, and the girls love Melody too, particularly because her car is an unofficial book mobile and the girls are avid readers. Soon (very soon), these two households are inseparable; Melody pitches in with watching the kids, and the kids are eager to help Melody settle in – although, to be fair, Melody has just bought a ‘fixer upper’ that feels more like a crack den than a home at the moment.

Sadly, Nina has just learned that her lymphoma is back, and even though it’s a really big ask, she has no one else, and Melody, friend of just a few intense days, is asked to be the guardian of dear sweet Holly and Ivy should mom Nina pass. In order to be approved for adoption, Melody is going to jump through some hoops, and fast – getting a job, for example, is probably item #1, and proving much harder than she’d anticipated. But getting the house up to code is also pretty crucial. Luckily, she meets a handsome young construction worker who’s surprisingly eager to lend a hand. I say surprisingly only because Melody and Adam (Jeremy Jordan) are younger than our typical Hallmark protagonists. Since Hallmark’s love stories typically emphasize love, commitment, and family over hot sex and passion, their love interests are always firmly in their 30s and ready to settle – at the youngest. Often they’re already widowed or looking for a second chance at love. Melody and Adam are in their 20s – can they possibly be ready for an instant family when they only just met days ago?

Well, in the same Hallmark universe where a young woman impulsively agrees to adopt a virtual stranger’s children, yes. But the first rule about parenting is that Adam and Melody will have to come to grips with some sacrifices, both professionally, and, gulp, romantically. Are they ready to face such tests? Is anybody?

Holly & Ivy is a bit of a surprise. It’s more about Melody’s relationship with the kids, and her promise to Nina, than any budding romance. Luckily by the movie’s end she’ll learn to embrace offers of help and support because hooo boy is she going to need it. Does this sound like the kind of holiday movie you can groove to? Then boogie on over to the Hallmark channel and enjoy the show.

A Nashville Christmas Carol

Vivienne (Jessy Schram) is a busy television producer in the middle of putting on this year’s Christmas show. The opening act just happens to be a client of old friend, Gavin (Wes Brown), which may be a source of friction since they parted with hurt feelings on either side, each feeling rebuffed. But they’re adults, right? And professionals. They can do this.

Except just when Vivienne thinks she’s doing a good job, her boss shows up to tell her she’s not. Not her actual boss, who tells her she’s up for a promotion, but her dead boss (Wynonna Judd), who tells her her life is on a surprisingly dark path. Vivienne’s about to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Kix Brooks) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) to show her what happens when you put ambition ahead of friendship. And maybe romance?

Sara Evans and Raelynn perform to give A Nashville Christmas Carol an authentic country flavour. The Dickens aspect is obviously a bit played out, but what the heck, it’s Nashville, and we’ve never seen the popular Christmas Carol story with these accents before. Probably.

Is it a great movie? No it is not. But you will not see a more gorgeous gown on the Hallmark channel this season than the one that Williams-Paisley wears in her ghostly apparition. And not only is it a nice message to put friendship first, it’s also an excellent reminder that the best relationships started out with solid friendship foundations.