DAY 15 – A Christmas Carol – COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS MOVIE REVIEW – 2016

Over the years I’ve watched many versions of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. I thought I should review at least one, so I chose the 1999 made-for-TV version by Peter Barnes with Patrick Stewart, one of my favorite actors.

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It would be difficult not to have seen a version of this movie at some point in one’s life, so I won’t repeat the plot line in depth. Suffice to say, we get to see, through Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “ghosts” how he came to be the man he is (Past), how his view of the world is limited to himself (Present), and how he will be remembered if he stays on the same path (Yet-To-Come).

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Ghost of Christmas Past

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Ghost of ChristGmas Present – harboring Ignorance and Want

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Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come

The message is clear, no matter who’s telling it.  There’s no better time than now – which happens to be Christmas, to evaluate where you’ve been, who you are now, and more importantly, where you’re going?

Are you living the life you envisioned living? Are you happy? Do you have relationships that make you happy? What can you do to help others and make the world a better place?

This is the universal theme of all the presentations of A Christmas Carol.

Specifically, I’m reviewing Patrick Stewart’s version. The beginning held my interest, as I loved the actor’s opening portrayal of Scrooge. Though only 95 minutes long, I admit I grew restless and felt the movie dragged. I think it was the lengthy one-man speeches and because I’ve seen so many versions over the years. I hoped to find a fresher take in this film, and sadly, I did not.

Interestingly enough, on the same day I watched this movie (Dec. 15), an article was published touting a new 53.42 minute video which has combined clips from 400 versions which you can watch online here. I do intend to watch it. This could be fun!

Bolstered by Patrick Stewart, this movie earns 2.5 of 5 Christmas ghosts. ♥♥.5

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Day 14 – Trading Christmas – Countdown to Christmas Movie Review – 2016

Movies that earn top marks deserve another mention because they’re worth seeing again. Day 14 is an encore presentation from 2015.

Trading Christmas still rates five of five Christmas Cookies!  ♥♥♥♥♥

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From Day 13, 2015:

I’ve fallen in love all over again with my pick for Day 13 of my Christmas Movie Review with Trading Christmas, 2011, Hallmark.

Day 13 - Trading Christmas

I didn’t want this sweet and impertinent movie to end.  As soon as Charles drove along the picturesque streets of a charming Smalltown, USA, and noted that he must be in Who-ville, I settled in for a satisfying experience.

The acting was notched up with four seasoned actors; Gil Bellows (first on my radar as Billy on Ally McBeal), Faith Ford (originally loved her in Murphy Brown), Tom Cavanagh (Who didn’t root for Ed?), and Gabrielle Miller (so glad I watched Corner Gas).  The chemistry was especially edgy and the dialogue tart between Gabrielle and Tom.

The concept was clever enough with a few twists, although it proved confusing to explain to my husband who missed the first fifteen minutes.

Faith Ford’s character, Emily, is a widow still mourning the death of her husband three years ago. She grew up in South Woodbourne, WA, and has never missed a Christmas there. Her college age daughter, Heather, decides to buck the system for a change and go to Phoenix for Christmas with her boyfriend, Jason, although she leads her mother to believe she’ll stay in Boston instead of flying home.

Emily decides to surprise her daughter by visiting her in Boston, and looks for a home to trade for the holidays.

Meanwhile, writer Charles (Tom Cavanaugh) takes his brother Ray’s (Gil Bellows) advice to get away from Boston to meet a deadline, and ends up swapping homes with Emily.

Enter Emily’s sister Faith (See how confusing this is for husbands?), played by Gabrielle Miller, who decides to surprise her sister with a trip back home since Emily will be so sad without her daughter for the holidays.

Of course, with all the “surprises”, no one tells anyone anything… Emily and Ray meet when she forgets to deactivate Charles’ alarm, and they begin a lovely romance.

Not all goes so well for Charles and Faith, as she’s getting over a bitter divorce and he’s nursing a wound from being dumped on Christmas Eve two years earlier, and isn’t really interested in her company or her opinions on his manuscript  – at least at first.

When Emily and Charles trade homes, they both leap out of their comfort zones into the antithesis of what Christmas means to each of them, which allows for opposing dynamics.

You might see where this leads but trust me, the bantering humor and connecting moments are worth it. (My husband didn’t make a single disparaging comment.)

Whoville.001-001

Who doesn’t like Who-ville?

Ergo, this movie ranks a 5 of 5 Christmas cookies. ♥♥♥♥♥
(The neighbors bring about two tons of welcoming cookies to Charles – who doesn’t want to bite.)

 

Day 13 – Lost Christmas – Countdown to Christmas Movie Review 2016

Based on the cover art on Amazon, I was expecting a totally different kind of movie than discovered in BBC’s Lost Christmas, 2011, written by John Hay and David Logan.

lost-christmas-dvd

Looks magical, right?

The description per Amazon:  Lost Christmas is an Urban Fairy Tale set in Manchester about how a series of tragic events that blight a young boy’s life are reversed one Christmas Eve giving him and those around him the happy ending that they were destined to have.

This is all true.

My husband and I watched the movie, properly mystified, trying to guess what would happen next.

After it was over, I wondered how I was going to write this review. My husband smiled and said good luck.

It was actually fascinating, if you enjoy British realism with a touch of funny (Nana, the grandmother was so sadly senile as she buttered her Christmas cards, and tried to roast the turkey in the washing machine, that your heart went out to her.), plus a tolerance for seamy.

When one of the very first scenes began with a drunk leaving a bar in the wee hours of Christmas Eve morning, and relieving himself on a lamp post in a deserted parking lot, I wondered if I’d accidentally queued up the wrong film.

lost-christmas-real

A bit more representative.

There is magic, a sense of connecting the dots, and sadness for the choices made without foreseeing a lifetime of regret. There is also a need to pay attention so you don’t miss a single word of dialogue as the characters often say the oddest things. The characters are a diversified lot, and yes, there is an adorable dog named Mutt as well.

If you’re looking for a total escape without thinking too deeply, and lots of Christmas traditions, this movie might not be for you.

However, if you’re like to ponder the “what if’s” in life, this film will help.

Lost Christmas runs your emotions up and down before coalescing at the end. The theme subscribes to practicing kindness as the defining moment in anyone’s life.

The movie was unique and well done, so I’m giving it a 4 of 5 Stolen Golden Bangles. (You’ll have to watch to understand.) ♥♥♥♥

shiva

The closest resemblance I could find.

Day 12 – The Christmas Bunny – Countdown To Christmas Movie Review 2016

The pendulum always swings back. To offset the darkness of Day 11’s movie review, The Christmas Bunny, 2010, written, directed, and produced by Tom Seidman, evokes emotion along the lines of Lassie Come Home, and Black Beauty. I found it at my library, and on Netflix.

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This story has heart.

When nine year old Julia arrives on December 23 at her third foster home in almost as many months, she refuses to speak and doesn’t like to share. Especially her most prized possession, a VCR tape of The Velveteen Rabbit, which she watches obsessively.

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Julia clings to the video as her lifeboat – the only thing that’s “real” to her.

And why wouldn’t she? With an unreliable drug-addicted mother who slaps her for not sleeping in the bathtub of a seedy hotel room as instructed, Julia’s head must spin with all the sudden changes she’s subjected to as she’s channeled through a bureaucratic system by a jaded social worker, who suspects her new foster parents want her only because of receiving state monies since the dad’s out of work. But, she’s not watching out for Julia, giving callous blanket advice in her rush to check another child off her list.

Even though the new foster mother welcomes her with open arms, Julia’s not taking any chances. She’s there for the ride, but she’s not participating.

The only thing that elicits a positive reaction is an abandoned domestic rabbit after it’s unfortunately shot by her foster brother and his cousin with the new BB guns they had to try out on Christmas Eve. (Yes, they get in big trouble.)

Any parent’s worst nightmare ensues – taking a stray creature to the veterinarian on Christmas Day and after x-rays confirm a fractured leg from the BB, being given the choice of:

  1. Operating – $800-$1000 – best option IF the rabbit starts eating again.
  2. Splinting – $500 and no guarantee this will work.
  3. Not an option because these really are good parents.
  4. Taking the bunny to a woman called The Rabbit Lady, who might be able to get it to eat and help nurse it back naturally.

You guessed it. The Rabbit Lady is a no-nonsense character who’s retreated into her safe world of saving mainly rabbits. She sees something in Julia, and conditionally agrees to help. I marveled at the freedom Florence Henderson must have felt as she threw herself into a role I’ve never seen her play before.

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It really is Florence.

There’s more drama than you might expect through the rest of the movie, but I don’t want to give anything away. Let’s just say I shed a few tears (as I did in the aforementioned films).

This movie has no slick special effects. It’s not a snappy romcom, nor is it heavy on all things Christmas. Some might find this movie overly sentimental and dare I say “homey”, but I found it to be thought-provoking, hopeful, realistic, and touching.

The beauty of the Western Michigan landscape at Christmastime also deserves a “YUGE” shout out.

I give this movie 4.5 of 5 (What else?) Christmas bunnies. ♥♥♥♥.5

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Merry Christmas!

 

Day 11 – The Nutcracker – The Untold Story – Countdown to Christmas Movie Review 2016

So. I have never seen The Nutcracker – as a movie or ballet performance. I decided it was high time I checked it out, and chose what I thought was an intriguing alternate version – The Nutcracker – The Untold Story, Cinemarket, 2010; partly because I like Nathan Lane and Elle Fanning so much as actors.

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The cover looks inviting, doesn’t it?

They did not disappoint and were charming in their roles. The movie started off magically. I even convinced my husband to give it chance. He left at the third of eight songs.

I stuck it out and wondered why I did (all 1 hour and 50 minutes). This is a tale of a young girl, Mary, whose imagination brings a nutcracker doll (NC) to life who needs her help to overthrow the Rat King who stole NC’s kingdom and wants to “ratify” the world.

I loved the set details and the initial special effects – until everything turned as dark as the prince’s kingdom where the sun was purposefully blocked out by black, billowing smoke that came from the burn factories fueled by all the children’s toys in the realm.

My specific objections include:

  • The kingdom under the influence of the Rat King (with the help of his mother who turned the prince into the nutcracker) reminded me of an awful combination of the downtrodden districts in The Hunger Games, Nazis influences, and the darkest part times ten in the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • The meanness on the part of the Rat King is too much. The villain could have been “evil” without being vicious.
  • The Bat Rats fall out of the sky when a high pitched alarm is pulled to affect their ears, but they weren’t real bats – they were motorized.
  • The movie merely takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas night; other than that, the connection to Christmas is non-existent.
  • When NC is brought back to being a human for the second time, his wooden leg is not attached, yet he is a whole boy when he changes. Why didn’t Mary at least make an effort to reattach his leg?
  • It reminded me of a horror movie.
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This guy gave me nightmares as a kid.

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The Rat King was right out of a bad zombie movie.

I felt this movie should have been avoided, so I give it point-five (.5) of five non-Christmas rats.

rat

To leave you on a brighter note though, I do intend to see The Nutcracker Ballet next season with my husband, and hope he doesn’t remember any of this movie.  The Straight No Chaser group has a fun version of The Nutcracker theme.

How, why, and when I choose Christmas films to review.

Three questions were posed to me recently.

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  1. Am I only reviewing Hallmark holiday movies?
  2. Am I only reviewing those released in 2016?
  3. How do I pick the movies I review?

The answers to #1 and #2 are simple no’s. The answer to #3 inspired this blog post.

How do I pick the movies I review? 

  • Any shiny new title or trailer is a magnet.
  • Friends’ recommendations (I keep a list.)
  • New releases
  • Old favorites
  • Favorite actors and actresses
  • Availability:
    • TV (see below for schedules)
    • On-Demand
    • Streaming
      • Netflix
      • Amazon
      • Hulu
      • Feeln
      • Google Play
      • You Tube
    • Library
      • I love going to the library and picking 7 at a time.
  • Magical-ness, relevancy, appeal, novelty
  • Google searches
  • Random timing
  • The weather
  • Ability to lure husband into watching
  • Special request
  • Appealing animals (Cats really pique my curiosity, as they’re known for their avoidance to direction.)
  • Classics I’ve somehow missed

Just as importantly, how do I pass on the movies I don’t review?

  • Bad poster art
  • Time constraints
  • Similarity to other movies I’ve seen with exceptions:
    • The promise of something different or…
    • Being in head-to-head competition with another network in the same season (I want to know!)
  • Husband passionately refuses to watch

Special note: I like to watch movies alone, and I also like to enjoy them with my husband or a good friend/family. As with many people, my husband cannot watch a steady diet of the same subject, so I choose my “together” suggestions very carefully for maximum enjoyment. He also cannot fathom how I can watch a favorite movie over and over and… over.

What about movies I’ve watched, but haven’t reviewed?

  • There have been Christmas movies I’ve watched but haven’t reviewed. Why? Namely because there are other movies I’d like to share more – either good or bad – that move the needle one way or another. If, for some reason, I would run out of movies to review, I can go back to the data base I keep.

As I read the list of movies I’ve reviewed during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, I notice that Hallmark is a main source.  Though not by design, opportunity is golden, and Hallmark runs their movies on two channels, non-stop, 24/7 right up until Christmas.  (They even have “Christmas in July” programming.)

Also, it’s a pretty safe bet if I need a pick-me-up, or pretend I’m baking cookies (ha), Hallmark will have an uplifting option.

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It’s easier to watch.

Here are a few Christmas TV channel schedules:

Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas

Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas

Lifetime

ABC Family (Freeform) 25 Days of Christmas (ABC also has a countdown to their 25 Days of Christmas, but we’ve left that zone…)

Turner Classic Christmas Movies

ION Christmas Movies

UPtv

Finally, I leave you with this link to the movies I have reviewed.

Christmas is coming. In 14 days. With all the holiday bustle and last minute realization you might not have time to do everything, a good Christmas movie and a cup of tea is a delicious respite.

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Day 10 – Christmas in Homestead – Countdown to Christmas Movie Review 2016

I looked forward to watching this release since its premise revolves around a Christmas movie in the making.

Hallmark’s 2016 Christmas In Homestead is written by Rick Garman who grew up in Iowa. His background shows in the warmth and personalities of the movie’s townspeople.

(A bit of trivia –  Homestead, Iowa is a real town, one of six Homesteads in the United States.)

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One thing I found refreshing in this movie is that I’d never seen Taylor Cole (as Jessica) and Michael Rady (as Matt) in any previous Christmas movies, though they are both seasoned  actors.  The plot of an actress making a Christmas movie and falling in love with a local is also one I haven’t seen before.

Although super-star Jessica has an ex-boyfriend, Vince, who acts the lead in her movie and wants to get back together, there’s no real threat of that. He doesn’t stand a chance once Jessica meets Matt, the owner of the inn where the cast stays – who doesn’t even know who Jessica is.

The two have a few bumps in the road early on as he’s also the Mayor and is against the movie using his picturesque town because he doesn’t want anything to change since his wife died. Shooting delays, interrupting traditional festivities, and the swarm of paparazzi don’t help.

The conflict in the movie is the angst each the main characters  face as they struggle to overcome their own personal demons and face their fear of new involvement.

Two actors were irresistible in supporting roles; Katrina Norman as Matt’s sister, Zoe, and Brooklyn Rae Silzer as Matt’s daughter Sophie. Both portrayed their roles so naturally, I anticipate seeing much more of them.

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Here they are: Zoe and Sophie

So, if you’re in the mood for a sweet, romantic Christmas movie with tender moments, no real villains, and a fun snowball contest, this one fits the bill.

I’m giving this movie a 3.5 of 5 Christmas Pumpkin Pies. ♥♥♥.5

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Day 9 – Pete’s Christmas – Countdown to Christmas Movie Review 2016

From ARC Entertainment (II) in 2013, Pete’s Christmas (available on Netflix) is not so much the tale of “Woe is the poor, misunderstood middle-child” as it is an introspection on not feeling sorry for yourself, even when it’s easy to do.

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Imagine waking up on Christmas morning in your younger brother’s bunk (who, though uber-smart, still wets the bed) after being displaced on Christmas Eve by a crotchety grandfather (Bruce Dern brings it!) with a chip on his shoulder.

Further, imagine an over-achiever mom, who because she tries to do everything from being the main breadwinner (just until Dad finds a new job after being downsized) as a veterinarian who’s on-call 24/7, to following every holiday tradition to ensure her family “enjoys” Christmas, creates more pressure for perfection.

Finally, the last straw. Watch your older brother delight in his new football. See your younger brother (in some disbelief) open the telescope you asked for… then watch desperate realization set in when each parent thought the other parent took care of you. It’s Christmas, and YOU HAVE NO PRESENT.

Such is the plight of the sometimes forgotten middle child.

Does Pete suck it up and make the best of it?  Absolutely not.

Crestfallen, his day goes from bad to worse, when he:

  • Gets snowball-bombed by the neighborhood bullies
  • Tears his pants before meeting the cutest new neighbor ever – Kate, played by one of my favorite actresses, Bailee Madison
  • Is dragged to go Christmas caroling in matching family sweaters
  • Is creamed at the traditional neighborhood football game
  • Is unfairly blamed for the Christmas tree catastrophe (Thanks older bro.)
  • Suffers through a disastrous holiday dinner, also indirectly attributed to him
  • Watches his grandfather’s unhappiness spill over into the rest of the family

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Before his grandfather huffs away, he gives Pete a mysterious box from “the old country” merely saying he could see Pete was having a bad day, and it was time to pass it on.

There’s nothing in the small wooden box. Another disappointment.

The only good thing about this Christmas is that Pete gets his room back and the day is over.

Or is it?  He wakes up again and suffers through the same nightmare.  It takes him a few more rounds (In the vein of Groundhog’s Day, and Edge of Tomorrow, Pete is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he gets it right; i.e., make it right.) to figure out that he’s not dreaming nor is anyone playing a trick on him.  It is in these first few repeats that I personally have a hard time exerting patience, yet I understand they are necessary for what’s to come. (Hence, it influenced my rating below.)

For that is when the fun begins. Pete starts playing with his foreknowledge and what he can do with it. He takes sweet revenge, although it sometimes backfires as he hones his skills.

After a few rounds of employing these tactics, his victories start to feel hollow. He digs deeper, takes a good look at himself, his family members, and his budding relationship with Kate. As he stops delighting in selfish antics, he begins to understand the struggles in the lives of his loved ones.

Instead of trying to changing his circumstances, he realizes that if he changes, perhaps that will impact the others. Try as he does, he seems to keep missing that final mark. So where does he turn to make it all right?

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(Hint: Pete’s final understanding of the box makes ALL the difference.)

This movie is a little off the beaten track.

How many Christmas films have the instrumental version of Radiohead’s song “Creep” almost continually in the background? One brother even calls another a weirdo at the right time. Here is Straight No Chaser’s version. Because it’s one of my haunting favorites, I’ll share part of the lyrics – clean version.

This could be the middle-child anthem.

CREEP by Radiohead (sample)
…But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo,
What am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.I don’t care if it hurts,
I want to have control,
I want a perfect body,I want a perfect soul,
I want you to notice,
When I’m not around,
You’re so very special,
I wish I was special.[Chorus:]
But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo,
What am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.Oh, oh…

I give this under-the-radar (for now) movie a 4 of 5 Matching Christmas Sweaters. ♥♥♥♥
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CHRISTMAS MOVIE REVIEW 2016 – DAY 8: The Mistletoe Promise

As promised in Day 7’s review of A December Bride, Day 8 features Hallmark’s 2016 The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans (also author of the best-selling book by the same name) because both these movies involve couples with secret pacts.

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In this movie, Elise and Nick notice each other and exchange eye rolls in the mall food court after each is serenaded by a troupe of Christmas carolers.  When they return to their respective offices, situations arise requiring drastic measures.

Nick learns he’s a contender for the only new partner slot in his law firm – whose senior partners value family and commitment above all else.  His problem?  He doesn’t have a serious girlfriend and compared to his biggest rival, whose wife is pregnant, the scales of justice aren’t tipped his way. So, what does he do? He invents a girlfriend to bolster his chances when his boss invites him to the big Christmas Eve party the next week.

Meanwhile, Elise has had it with her ex-husband, Dan. When they fell in love and married, she shared half her travel agency, and now that they’re divorced, he refuses to sell his half back. Even worse, he stole Elise’s idea to track Santa’s reindeer on the local news, and convinced the station to hire his new girlfriend, Drew.  In addition, he plans to reduce costs by cutting the charity travel the agency offers. Elise’s best friend suggests Elise needs a boyfriend to keep Dan off guard and to find joy outside work.

Elise and Nick bump into each other again in the mall and joke about being in the Christmas phobia club. Nick has an idea and proposes a contract.

The terms are seemingly simple:

  • They meet for lunch everyday.
  • They hold hands, but that’s all.
  • They watch It’s A Wonderful Life together.
  • The contract, which is softened to “promise” expires on Christmas Eve.

Nick is the perfect boyfriend. The gals in Elise’s office drool over his bouquets.

His co-workers love her.

As Elise and Nick spend more time together, and make social appearances, they discover they enjoy Christmas activities such as ice skating, ornament shopping, and a snowman contest. They begin to care for each other.

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One area I believe could be improved would be to reduce the amount of exposition given to explain their background and motivations.

One thing I loved was watching Elise’s hairstyle transform as she warmed up to Nick, her severely pulled-back hair much looser and softer around her face.

When the details of the agreement surface in front of Elise’s friends (courtesy Dan), she’s humiliated and wants to call it all off, but then decides to keep her end of the deal. Nick is overwhelmed by guilt, so he confesses what he’s done to his boss.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it involves mistletoe.

I give this movie 3 of 5 Sprigs of Mistletoe. ♥♥♥

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CHRISTMAS MOVIE REVIEW 2016 – DAY 7 : A December Bride

I’ve mentioned my fascination with similarly themed Christmas movies. Once again, I managed to find – in close proximity – two movies that reminded me of one another. First I watched Hallmark’s 2016 A December Bride, written by Karen Berger, so I’ll review it first for Day 7.  We’ll visit Hallmark’s 2016 The Mistletoe Promise, written by Richard Paul Evans for Day 8.

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(Though different set-ups, the similarities involve secret pacts between the couples. For a hilarious secret pact, I suggest Hitched For the Holidays, which I reviewed in 2015.)

As soon as the main character, Layla, introduces her cousin Jessica to her fiancé Jack at a business function, her December wedding is doomed when they immediately hit it off.  We see Layla’s nervousness as she watches their eyes connect, and blames Seth, an acquaintance who suggests that Jessica and Jack could help each other business-wise. I wondered why she was so insecure at this late date and why she had to blame Seth?

Caving to family pressure, and having secured her cute neighbor as her date, she agrees to attend the wedding, but at the last minute, he gets sick. Desperate, she allows Seth to take her – to make it up to her – after they bump into one another near his office where she’s on her way to pitch her abilities as a professional house-stager to the realty developer in town, as she tries to move on from being an eternal design assistant. He’s not buying.

But, it turns out he’s a wedding guest, and  assumes she and Seth are a couple, so as a favor to Seth… he agrees to give Layla a trial run – if she can turn Seth’s pathetically under-decorated, yet luxurious bachelor home into a holiday paradise for the Christmas Tour of Homes.

bachelor-pad-day-7

Okay, it’s not this bad.

(PS: Yes, we’ve seen the bachelor pad makeover before too, per A Bride For Christmas, which I also recommend from last year.)

As this puts her into direct competition with her boss, she’s promptly fired. Now she has to win the tour’s highest honor.  As she and Seth are linked together, they’re invited to more holiday functions as a couple, and somehow… to save face, it pops out that they’re engaged. They decide to carry the charade through until Christmas.

During the process of preparing Seth’s home for Christmas – trimming the tree, making wreaths, stringing popcorn – their attraction grows, though Layla holds back.

The unresolved issue of forgiving Jessica (and Jack) still weighs her down. One sticking point for me was not that Layla should forgive, rather it was that Jessica didn’t seem truly contrite – merely that all should be forgiven because she and Jack fell in love.

I felt there should be something more from Jessica. Where’s the sense of honor when the two cousins were so close? And, why did she also steal Layla’s dream of a December wedding? She is not the “December Bride” this movie is about.

However, all the story lines neatly wind up, so I give this movie 3.5 of 5 popcorn strands.

♥♥♥.5

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