Tag Archives: holiday movies

12 Gifts of Christmas

With only two weeks left until Christmas, struggling artist Anna Parisi (Katrina Law) decides to advertise as a holiday personal shopper. It is possible Anna does not have the sharpest business acumen but she also doesn’t have rent money, so she probably should have put a little hustle into her side hustle. Marc Rehnquist (Aaron O’Connell) is a busy ad exec who was supposed to have ordered corporate Christmas gifts for the 100 employees in his office, and apparently doesn’t realize that bulk orders this close to the holidays are practically impossible. Luckily they both patronize the same bakery where Anna’s recommendation of the secret menu cupcakes impresses Marc so much that he hires her to shop not only for his employees, but for his nearest and dearest as well – who apparently aren’t quite so near or so dear that he’s spared them a single thought before now. If it’s truly the thought that counts, Marc usually substitutes thought for expense, sending lavish gifts along with notes apologizing for his absence. But with thoughtful Anna crossing off his list, he’s going to learn a thing or two about priorities and the true value of his time.

12 Gifts of Christmas is about as complex and full-bodied as a bottle of Boone’s but the 2020 holiday season is fast approaching and concessions must be made. Some people are very serious about their Hallmark/LMN/Netflix romantic Christmas movie tradition/addiction, but in our house the annual viewing is a little more reluctant, and not without some grumbling, yet there are indeed some faithful traditions. Sean complaining about every movie set in New York starting off with trite stock footage: check. Then Jay rolls her eyes at the very light attempt at a will-they-or-won’t-they, and Sean’s belly growls at the third cookie baking montage, and Jay’s eyes glaze over at the sight of so many jewelry boxes, and Sean starts to sweat realizing that there are so far zero jewelry boxes under our tree, and we both agree that the only true Christmas miracle in this whole movie is finding street parking in “Manhattan” (Avid Hallmark fans will recognize Eva’s Bakery which has appeared in several Hallmark movies as a New York City location though it’s actually a real bakery in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah).

This movie earns no distinctions in acting or director or production or story. It follows the Hallmark formula loyally and steadfastly, so there are no surprises here, none whatsoever, but if you’re in the market for some banal, PG “romance,” Hallmark’s shelves are fully stocked and you can take your pick.

Holidate

I’m not a Scrooge, but I generally like to keep my Christmas season to about 2-3 weeks total. Both Sean and my young niece share an early December birthday, so I don’t really open the Christmas floodgates until after that, when I can give it my full attention. Many others, including my mother, and my sister (the mother of said niece), are very early celebrants, decking their halls promptly on November 12th (we observe Remembrance Day on the 11th), and would love to do it earlier if decency allowed. Stores unveil their Christmas fare earlier and earlier; they used to wait for Halloween to pass but it is now not uncommon to see wares for both holidays as early as August. Which is when some people start watching holiday movies, according to Netflix. For a longtime the Hallmark channel had a stranglehold on the kind of Christmas movie I’m talking about: the cheesy romance holiday film, low-budget and incredibly formulaic, and yet as much a tradition in some people’s holidays as trees and stockings. Lifetime has gotten in on the action, and now Netflix has too, running last season’s Hallmark movies, and pushing their own Christmas franchises, like the Royal Christmas and Christmas Switch. Holidate, which started streaming on the service on October 28th, seemed early enough to be declaring war on the other sources: “we’re Here, We’re full of good tidings & cheer, Get used to it.” Alas, no. Holidate is only about 10% Christmas, a very tolerable amount even outside of the season, so you can quench your eggnog-equivalent movie thirst with Holidate and not even feel ashamed. Rejoice!

Sloane (Emma Roberts) is fed up by her family’s constant, invasive questions about her marital status – specifically, her lack thereof. Her mother Elaine (Frances Fisher) can’t imagine a fate worse than singledom for her daughter, so you can imagine her ongoing disappointment when Sloane remains in this dreadful state year after year. Christmas is just one among many holidays that prove intolerable to the spinster at the table. So when Sloane meets Jackson (Luke Bracey), a single guy who’s spent too many uncomfortable holidays in the presence of regrettable dates, they seem like a perfect match. They resolve on being each other’s ‘holidate,’ their reliable plus one to holiday-related events but no more, no friends, no benefits. Nothing outside the holidays.

It works pretty great, for a while. They have fun together, even though I still maintain that St Patrick’s day and mother’s day aren’t exactly romantic holidays that require dates, and that Labour Day is hardly a holiday, period. And yet.

And yet the dubious plot is hardly the film’s greatest challenge. Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey have no chemistry. In Roberts’ defense, it’s hard to have chemistry with a cardboard-humanoid Chris Hemsworth replacement product.

Holidate pretends to be self-aware, Sloane rolling her eyes at corny rom-coms that always predictably end in love, which the poster never bothers to hide, and yet the film then unabashedly follows the same formula in all the expected cheesy ways. It would be better to say nothing at all than to call attention to the rules you aren’t about to break.

That said, Holidate isn’t an awful movie. As far as holiday romances go, it’s perfectly middle of the road, exactly the kind of movie that is easily half-watched as you prepare a meal or fold some laundry or wrap some gifts. It probably goes down easier with some wine (like most things, but never more true than with Hallmark-esque movies of a holiday nature). And you can dip into it, guilt-free, in November, or anytime you please.

Operation Christmas Drop

Let the barrage of cheesy holiday movies begin!

Netflix comes out of the gate strong with Operation Christmas Drop, a heart-warming instant classic that might just crack your Christmas Top 5 and start a new holiday tradition at your house.

Haha, just kidding. It’s a total cheesefest, oozing Gruyère faster than a leaky fondue pot.

Congressional aide Erica (Kat Graham) gets sent to Guam over the Christmas holidays to find “efficiency” deficits that will allow her boss (Virginia Madsen) to defund a beachside Air Force base. Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig) gets assigned against his will to escort her during her visit, and by “escort” I of course mean distract and/or thwart her at every turn. The base’s worst kept secret, and the main reason behind Erica’s visit, is Operation Christmas Drop, wherein service members volunteer their time and solicit donations to air drop on the more isolated of the neighbouring islands. But despite this being a truly good-hearted endeavour, leave it to government to see wasted resources instead of humanitarian aid.

Will Erica write the report that shuts down the base? Will under-privileged island kids get their medicine and school supplies? Will the evil American government find a new way to ruin Christmas? And will Erica and Andrew ever think up a solution to their mutual holiday solitude?

Kat Graham is luminous while Ludwig is a miscast lunk. The tropical setting of Guam is remarkably beautiful, even if it’s a deviation from the usual snow-covered small town setting of a holiday romance. The real-life inspirational counterpart should lend this thing a whiff of authenticity, but it’s all just so earnest it’s painful. Although I’m not the biggest fan of these Hallmark-esque Christmas movies, I’ll admit Netflix has had a couple of stand-outs that very nearly transcend the genre. This isn’t one of them. Operation Christmas Drop has Graham going for it and nothing else. The beaches are beautiful but the story is boring and the formula so carefully and precisely toed that you’ll wonder if you haven’t seen it before. You haven’t, and if I were you, I’d keep it that way.

Broadcasting Christmas

Seven years ago, Emily (Melissa Joan Hart) and Charlie (Dean Caine) were rising broadcasters working with their friend and producer Patrice (Cynthia Gibb). Emily and Charlie were also romantically involved, which made things ultra complicated when they were competing for the same big break in New York City. Charlie landed the position, and Emily realized she couldn’t follow and watch someone else take her dream job, so she stayed behind in Connecticut working the local news, and the three friends parted ways, with only Patrice in the middle, splitting her time between them.

Wouldn’t you know it: a new job has opened up, and it’s a big one. Patrice is a producer on Veronika Daniels’ (Jackée Harry) nationally syndicated morning show (think Kathie Lee & Hoda) and Veronika’s looking for a new cohost. That pits exes Emily and Charlie against each other in a series of pre-Christmas shows, each with a holiday-themed human interest story more magical and merry than the last. Working so closely together is reigniting old feelings but the truth is, they are once again competing for a single job, and someone’s bound to get hurt.

This romantic (ish) Hallmark Christmas movie is pretty much on par with all the others. It’s not better but at least it’s not worse, and 90s kids might enjoy seeing Sabrina the Teenage Witch share a screen with Superman of  Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, not to mention the irrepressible Jackée Harry of Sister Sister. Like all Hallmark movies, Broadcasting Christmas is disposable and forgettable, but the beauty of the Hallmark channel (and Netflilx, where this one is currently streaming in Canada) is that there’s always another one if you want it.

The Mistletoe Promise

Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you that fairy tales weren’t real? That there wasn’t going to be a prince who gave you shoes and diamonds and whisked you off to a castle? Luckily Kate Middleton’s mother never told her that. Instead, she held Kate back a year so that she’d wind up in Prince William’s year at University, and the rest is history. Megan Markle took a more circuitous route, but she too wound up with a tiara in the end. The odds are against you, but it does happen. What our mothers should have been warning us about is the false promise of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

While a very few princes do exist, and do make princesses out of commoners, how many lawyers exist who meet a woman in a food court and then draw up a contract so they can fake date each other? None, and I should know: I’ve eaten a lot of soup in a lot of food courts.

And yet this is exactly what happens when Elise (Jaime King) grabs her favourite wonton soup and gets harassed by some mall Christmas carolers. Lawyer/Christmasphobe Nick (Luke Macfarlane) rushes to her aid, posing as her fake boyfriend to protect her from the unwanted holiday serenade. Nick had only moments before been lamenting his rotten luck in life – technically he’s up for partnership at his law firm, but the firm is both family-oriented and Christmas-obsessed, so his ambitions are bound to be thwarted. UNLESS. Unless he quickly draws up a contract obliging Elise to attend work functions with him, posing as his long-term, super serious girlfriend, and in exchange, he’ll pose as her significant other around her office too, where co-owns a travel agency with her sleazy ex-husband (Lochlyn Munro) who is constantly parading around the girlfriend he left her for.

I’m not sure what kind of national law firm of DIVORCE ATTORNEYS refuses to promote single people; lawyers are usually pretty aware how quickly such illegal discrimination would bring about some pretty hefty lawsuits. But they also impose strict Christmas rules (which, last I checked, is a christian holiday), including a mandatory party where the employees are forced to pay for new, symbolic ornaments (which you can find at your nearest Hallmark store, fyi) to trim their boss’s personal tree in their off hours at a party where women are not allowed to wear pants. I SWEAR TO GOD THIS IS ALL TRUE.

Does Elise wake up and realize she’s a little too old to inflate her self esteem with a fake boyfriend? Does Nick realize he could sue his company for millions and start his own Christmas-hating firm with the settlement? No. Instead, they feel bad for lying to “such nice people” and break the contract – not to mention each other’s hearts – and go back to being depressed around the holidays.

Does it make sense? No. Is it realistic? Of course not. But it’s comforting and familiar and I can guarantee you there’s a happy ending with your name on it.

Christmas In Mississippi

Photographer Holly Logan (Jana Kramer) returns to her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi for Christmas. The town is still recovering from a devastating hurricane five years ago and is resurrecting their traditional holiday light show for the first time since it struck. It’s going to take quite a production to make up for lost time and boost town morale, so Holly volunteers to pitch in, but soon regrets it when she discovers the festival is run by her high school sweetheart, Mike (Wes Brown). Now Holly must spend the next few days with the man who broke her heart when he didn’t follow her to college as planned.

The past decade has perhaps changed Mike: he’s stable, he’s sweet, he volunteers, and he takes care of his nephew Jack. Does he have a job? Who knows! Between those crinkly blue eyes and his acoustic guitar, who cares? Holly’s widowed mother Caroline (Faith Ford) is certainly on board, pushing the two together at every opportunity, even though she herself continues to rebuff the charms of a certain Mr. Maguire (Richard Karn).

With the magic of Christmas wafting through the air and a few silly misunderstandings quickly out of the way, there’s plenty of room for Mike and Holly to fall in love.

Kramer and Brown have the bland kind of appeal which I suppose allows almost anyone to imagine themselves in their shoes. Faith Ford and Richard Karn add a certain 90s vibe to the whole proceeding (you may remember Ford as Corky on Murphy Brown, and Karn as Al on Home Improvement), and you might wish we could see a fuller secondary love story from these second-timers. (Fun fact: my mother’s husband retired this summer, and his kids paid Richard Karn to send him best wishes over the internet in a pre-recorded video – apparently that’s a thing you can do).

This is a Lifetime movie rather than a Hallmark movie, and I know there are devoted camps to both, so if that’s a difference-maker to you, be forewarned (the only real difference that I can discern is that Hallmark always makes you wait until the very last scene for the couple’s first and only kiss, while Lifetime makes you wait only the first 90 minutes (counting commercials) and then maybe sneaks in another one or two (pecks, closed mouths, no tongues) before the film wraps up in the exact same way a Hallmark one does. These movies don’t literally end on a heart-shaped dissolve, but they don’t have to – you can feel it. It is heavy like a hard cheese, and that, my friends, is no coincidence. Peace out.

Christmas Bells Are Ringing

Samantha (Emilie Ullerup) is switching gears – she’s just finished submitting photos for a Boston newspaper’s Christmas insert which could lead to a job offer, but now she’s on her way to her family’s Cape Cod summer escape which she’s avoided ever since her mother’s death 13 years ago. There are lots of painful memories to navigate but also a happy occasion to celebrate – her father Lee’s Christmas Eve wedding to Helen. Sam has just a few days to meet her future stepmother, act as a maid of honour, and help her father decide whether they should sell their vacation home, but her time is even further constrained when she learns she has to resubmit new photos for the insert.

Luckily her childhood friend Mike (Josh Kelly) has been acting as the summer home’s property manager and is on hand fixing a pesky leak just in time to volunteer as her own personal Christmas concierge, whisking her to all the local sights that might make for a winning festive photo. You might not be surprised to learn that Sam and Mike’s past friendship verged on the romantic before they agreed the timing wasn’t great. Now that they’re spending such quality time in each other’s company again, sparks are reigniting, but neither wants to start a relationship that might prevent the other from pursuing their dreams. Conundrum!

Don’t worry guys. This is a Christmas romance, where love always prevails. In fact, you’ll never really doubt that it does. Added bonus: you get two love stories for the price of one, as Lee and Helen celebrate their second chance at love while love blooms among the poinsettias for Samantha and Mike. Yes, there will be bells. And ice skating, Christmas cookies, even Santa on a boat, which is the one unique thing this movie has going for it

A Perfect Christmas List

Never say a dying grandma can’t milk her last breaths for all they’re worth – Evie (Marion Ross) certainly does. Recently discharged from the hospital, she’s laid up in her daughter’s home, and with granddaughter Sara (Ellen Hollman) home for Christmas too, she schemes to reconnect the estranged mother-daughter duo with the perfect Christmas list. Will it work? And will grandma still be around to see it?

Evie’s list has some fairly banal items for Sara and mom Michelle (Beth Broderick) to cross off together: bake cookies from scratch, cut down a real tree, do some work for charity. Typical stuff. Normally they’d be triggering each other left and right and tearing each other’s hair out, but with grandma’s imminent death hanging over them, their usual bickering seems trivial and they’re managing to mend the rift.

Don’t worry, don’t worry, there’s a little wiggle room in there for romance. Grandma’s hot doctor makes house calls. Dr. “call me Brandon” Reed (Aaron Hill) is, like so many men in holiday romances, almost too good to be true. He’s an attentive doctor but he’s also Mr. Fix It, working a side gig as a handyman to make spare cash for an orphanage where he spends all his free time. His only flaw is that he buys bacon flavoured butter, and let me be clear, that’s not necessarily a flaw in my book but in Sara’s, and clearly it’s not a deal breaker for her either.

A Perfect Christmas List deviates slightly from the normal formula in that its main focus is on the three generations of women, and repairing a broken relationship before it’s too late. These types of movies often espouse family values, and they always make sure the heroine has interests and friends outside of her romantic relationship, which is kind of refreshing if you think about it, and very nearly (dare I say it?) feminist. She’ll always have a best friend, or a close coworker, or a solicitous sister, or a mother she doesn’t go a day without calling, and she doesn’t drop them just because she met a man. And the holiday romance man is not only okay with that, he actually likes your mouthy best friend. He checks on your mom. He fits in seamlessly with your family. Dr. Brandon has a crush on Sara but understands that she’s making time for family right now. And when she does have a free moment, he doesn’t jump to her beck and call, he honours his commitment to the orphaned children and trusts that Sara will wait. Call it corny, call it idealistic or even unrealistic, but let’s also think about calling it GOALS.

A Belle For Christmas

I learned something new this week and it’s all thanks to a Hallmark holiday romance called Broadcasting Christmas. I am diligently watching crappy Christmas movies just as fast as Netflix can release them, and when I posted a quickie review of one starring Dean Cain, some of you were just as quick to point out that Dean Cain is apparently a republican fart box. Frankly, though I haven’t thought of him in 20 years or so, and I certainly don’t follow him on my socials, I was a little surprised I hadn’t heard of it myself. Guess his C-status just doesn’t rate with so many other numpties making the news. So this time I’ll apologize in advance that we’ve got another Cain starrer on our hands.

This time he’s a widowed (widowered?) lawyer raising his kids in the suburbs and just starting to get back into the dating pool. He’s been on a couple of dates with big-headed barista Dani (Kristy Swanson) and without a living ex-wife to tell him this is wildly inappropriate, he not only introduces her to the kids, he allows her to move in over the holidays so they can all bond. Dani is a Disney villain personified – Lady Tremaine mixed Cruella De Vil, with a zany, borderline crazy streak that’s pretty disturbing, especially since Glenn seems not to notice it. His kids sure do though – they may be small but they know gold digger energy when they see it. Despite the fact that she excludes and gets rid of them at every chance she gets, and that she’s stealing jewelry from their dead mother’s coffers, they MAY have given her a second chance, at least for their dad, had she not stooped so low. But Dani really crosses the line when she brings their new but already beloved puppy Belle to a shelter to get euthanized (pause for gasps). She insists she’s just run away, but the kids suspect the truth. Accusations without evidence don’t go over well with their completely oblivious father, so they take matters into their own hands and along with a couple of helpful neighbour kids, they have themselves a little heist adventure on Christmas Eve.

A Belle for Christmas is a family movie rather than a romantic one. Although you’ll still find it has way too much Dean Cain (and too much Swanson, who is so over-the-top evil she feels like a cartoon character), it’s really about the kids. Belle belongs to Elliot (Jet Jurgensmeyer) officially, but big sister Phoebe (Meyrick Murphy) is just as devoted, and the siblings are close, united in their distrust of Dani and their grief for a mother who, let’s not forget, passed away less than a year ago. Elliot’s cocoa-selling, dog-loving crush Riley (Avary Anderson) is along for the ride, as is next door neighbour/Elliot’s best friend Malcolm (Connor Berry). All of these kids are as cute as they are talented, but director Jason Dallas knows a star when he sees one, and he’s made extra room in the film for Berry to shine.

Otherwise, it’s a bland but safe choice for family viewing, with a sweet dog who’s never in any real danger, except maybe of being hugged to death.

Home For Christmas Day

Betsy (Matreya Fedor) is a high school student, a choir soloist, a horse lover and wannabe vet, a diner waitress, and about half a year away from college, so this is potentially her last Christmas while living at home with her mother. Betsy is a good kid with a clear path toward her goals, but when a handsome soldier walks into the diner one day, things get rearranged. She and Tyler (Anthony Konechny) fall in love despite an imminent tour of duty, and despite her mother’s stern disapproval.

Betsy’s mother Jane (Catherine Bell) isn’t normally the wet blanket type, but thanks to long, lingering shots of a framed photo, we get the hint that her own soldier boy, Betsy’s father, was killed in action long ago. Might this possibly be the source of her concern?

It’s definitely the source of her concern, but teenage love thrives when it’s forbidden, and not even the hunky diner owner (Victor Webster) can distract Jane from her objection, driving a wedge between her and her daughter during a time they should be treasuring as the last of its kind.

Home For Christmas Day follows all the familiar Hallmark beats, and director Gary Harvey know how to make the most of his modest budget, tapping Fedor’s talent as a singer for a do-it-yourself music montage that pays for itself, although I did question the need for a montage summing up a relationship that had, at that point, existed for literally all of 2 days. I get it though: your first love feels like it’s bigger and more important than the whole world. Plus, a montage is a great way to pad out a movie; 84 minutes can feel like a lot of time to fill when everyone already knows not only the destination, but also the the well-worn path of the journey.