' Cinema Romantico

Friday, December 09, 2016

Some Drivel On...JFK

No one has ever claimed that Oliver Stone’s ultra-incendiary “JFK” (1991) was strictly factual; in fact, a great many claimed that it was entirely devoid of fact, that it contained not one single shred of truth. Not one shred of truth is the phrase the esteemed Roger Ebert employed when he wrote about the film for his Great Movie series and established one of his general principles about the medium of film. He wrote: “I believe films are the wrong medium for fact. Fact belongs in print. Films are about emotions.” I have always thought of those lines too and I have thought about them even more as we approach the 25th anniversary of “JFK’s” release in the wake of lunatics showing up at pizza joints because of mind-bendingly bizarre, dim conspiracy theories fostered by raving gasbags during an election that forced the phrase “post-truth” into the discourse. Indeed, post-truth was so prevalent that Oxford Dictionary deemed it the word of the year. “Post-Truth: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oh. You don't say?


Kinda like I don’t really ever remember learning the Pledge of Allegiance because I just knew it, I never really remember learning about the conspiracy to assassinate JFK because it was just always was. Whether or not a conspiracy to kill JFK that terrible day in Dallas in 1963 actually existed, the point was and remains that so many, no matter if the alternative histories they espouse might be debunked, or compellingly argued against, still can’t help but feel there is more to the story, whether it was the Warren Commission’s general idiocy or something more insidious. Stone, for sure, never completely bought the official explanation of events, but he also knew he could not truly prove otherwise. “Too much weird stuff went on,” Stone told Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia Center for Politics five years ago. “We can only present a counter myth.”

It is the counter myth that Matt Zoller Seitz and Kevin Lee considered when writing about “JFK.” “From the opening newsreel Stone presents a myth,” they explain, “one that pervades this stage of his career: government as oppressive patriarch, motivated largely by military and capitalistic interests and operating largely out of view of a public blinkered by patriotic propaganda.” Indeed, Stone seizes on the conspiracy theories peddled by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the movie’s protagonist, played by Kevin Costner with a famously bad accent, to incite propaganda of his own, promoting the idea that a coup d’etat within the utmost reaches of the government sought to bring Kennedy down.

Stone promotes this idea by injecting brief black & white flashback sequences, like Lyndon B. Johnson telling a room of conspirators that if they get him into the Oval Office then he’ll give them their damn war (as in, Vietnam), which are often placed around actual archival footage, deliberately intended to muddy the viewing waters. In writing about this “seamless blend(ing) (of) documentary footage and re-creations” for Reverse Shot, Michael Joshua Rowin pegged it as a “smoke and mirrors act”, and that is true.


It can be argued that this smoke and mirrors act is intended to confuse the audience, to make it difficult to discern what’s real from what isn’t, which leaves everything in question. But while that it is a criticism for some, an act of flagrant irresponsiblity, to others, like myself, it is, strictly from a filmmaking standpoint, propangadist or not, a commendation. As Randy Laist, an associate professor of English at Goodwin College, put it for a seriously academic treatise on the film: “More so than any particular theory about who shot JFK, the thesis of Stone’s film is that reality itself has been assassinated, under circumstances that we can only reconstruct out of a montage of images, ambivalently real and/or unreal – the fragments of a hyperreal mediascape.”

Hyperreal is a term credited to French theorist Jean Baudrillard, inevitably name-checked in Laist’s piece, who ascribed the difference between a modern and postmodern society as a “mode of representation in which ideas represent reality and truth.” In a postmodern society, he reckoned, “subjects lose contact with the real and fragment and dissolve.” That’s what happens as you watch “JFK.” If his previous films, as Laist notes, were born more a narrative realism, in “JFK”, Stone batters that realism to bits, primarily through ferociously kinetic, Oscar-winning editing by Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing that is so overpowering it sweeps you up and rushes you along, right past the narrative’s obfuscations and embellishments. What’s real and what isn’t ceases to be the point; all you have left is the emotion that Stone’s aesthetic deliberately engenders. You feel angry; you feel mistrustful; you feel like you have not been told everything; you feel like the government, that convenient catch-all, wants to keep you in the dark. “On that level,” wrote Ebert, “it is completely factual.”

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Reviewing 5 Minutes, or so, of Collateral Beauty

Earlier this week it was reported by several outlets, including Uproxx, that LucasFilm screened 28 minutes of the forthcoming blockbuster to-be "Rogue One", the "Star Wars" Death-Star-Plans-Stealing spinoff, at Skywalker Ranch. If it seems sort of shocking that they would do such a thing given how information surrounding a new "Stars War" movie is kept more clandestine than the top secret information our President Elect receives in the few security briefings he actually deigns to attend before Tweeting about it, well, rest assured that nothing particularly spoiler-rific was shown, depending upon your definition of spoiler-rific. This 28 minutes, it seems, was chiefly a way to get "people talking", and to get people to say nice things about what they saw, which sort of seems pointless since most "Star Wars" fans who are going to see this have already decided they are going to love it and most film critics who are chastising "Star Wars" for having already decided they are going to love it have already decided they are not going to love it as much as those "Star Wars" fans who have already decided they are going to love it. 

Anyway, this got me to thinking about "Collateral Beauty", the new film from Richard Curtis. Er, right, sorry, not Richard Curtis. It only seems like it would be the new film from Richard Curtis. I don't really want to see "Collateral Beauty", but I also kind of do, and so I thought, hey, if people could pen semi-reviews of "Rogue One" off sporadic footage, why I couldn't I do the same for "Collateral Beauty"? What a brave new world!!!

So, where is "Collateral Beauty" set? Oh. Right. Of course. New York. It's set in New York. Thanks, obligatory shot of the Brooklyn Bridge!



So, when is "Collateral Beauty" set? Oh. Right. Of course. Christmas. It's set at Christmas. Because Christmas, see, is magical!!!



We know it's magical, see, because the main character played by Will Smith, a character who has suffered heartbreak, is writing literal letters to "Death" and "Time" and "Love."



And boy oh boy, say what you will about that premise, but when Will Smith comes face to face with "Death", he really does look like a guy who's just come face to face with "Death." Point, Smith.



By the way, kudos to Will Smith, in an industry where vanity is valued, for letting himself go gray.



Boy does Will Smith peddle that bike with ferocity! (Point, Smith.) Do you think this is a climactic bike ride in advance of a dramatic confessional? I bet it's a climactic ride in advance of a dramatic confessional. 



I don't know precisely what's going on with these dominoes, but I'm willing to bet it is a case of hardcore symbolism.



Keira Knightley plays "Love", and I love how "Love" seems so Sad in every shot in each trailer.





Oh. Hey. Did you also know this movie stars Kate Winslet? Excuse me. Let me start over. (Pause.) Oh. Hey. Did you know this movie stars Academy Award™ Winner Kate Winslet? God, I love getting to see that phrase in trailers - Academy Award™ Winner Kate Winslet. That's just the bee's knees.


Wait. This movie stars Keira and Kate. Crap. I am going to have to see this for real. Dammit. Fine. I'll catch it when it shows up on TNT. We will reconvene then.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Seventh Fire

The first ten minutes of Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s affecting fly on the wall documentary “The Seventh Fire” feature several shots of the expansive Midwestern sky. These are not, however, simply shots of the sky for the sky’s sake, to offer picturesque transition or scene-setting. The sky we see is often dark and cloudy, threatening rain, and finally, in one shot, thunder cracks and the clouds open up. This is portentous, not so much of what’s to come as what already is. After all, the setting is the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwest Minnesota. And while Pettibone Riccobono almost exclusively refrains from painting overt parallels between the plight of the Native Americans on the screen and how America in general has essentially left these people behind, well, it’s difficult not to draw that conclusion anyway. Occasionally people on the reservation take their crummy furniture outside their crummy carbon copy homes, set it ablaze and leave it to burn. They don’t care what happens to it.


With this bleak environment as a backdrop, “The Seventh Fire” attaches itself to two men, eighteen year old Kevin Fineday and something loosely akin to Kevin’s mentor, Rob Brown, a lifelong criminal on the verge of going back to jail, thereby abandoning his pregnant girlfriend who makes a heartbreaking lament that one day he might settle down, staring off toward him with the eyes of a person who knows her wish will never come true. Rob’s demeanor is fairly warm and he never comes across like some morally repugnant sociopath, yet one shot finds him snorting lines of blow right in front of a little baby girl. It’s deeply unsettling and makes you wonder what goes on when the camera’s off.

For much of the film, Rob seems utterly indifferent to his fate. As he is ushered into the courtroom to hear his sentence read, he does a little dance for the camera, which betrays his flippant attitude toward the whole process. “I’ve been around here,” he says to his lawyer afterwards, like it’s the garage and he’s getting his tools. Yet later, when he is about to be shepherded off to jail, he makes a plea by phone to his father, who we do not see, for bail money to give him a little extra time in the free world before he goes away. As he does, all his posturing slips away. He buries he head as he cries, like he doesn’t want us to see.

Indeed, it’s the glimpse of a soulful side, one that occasionally emerges, perhaps against his want. Earlier, for the benefit of the camera and, in turn, us, he reads through his entire rap sheet, an upbringing of abuse and all manner of petty crimes. Tucked in there, though, is the revelation that he’s a writer and that he hopes to one day get published. You wonder what happened to that desire.


You hope that Kevin finds that desire. Several times Kevin repeats a variation of the standby phrase that there is nothing for someone like him to do other than get in trouble, which generally seems like his aim in the mostly aimless sequences of hanging out with his girlfriend and friends. His jovial father expresses a desire for his son to make the right choices, but also cops to feeling as if he has no more advice to give, that his son has to make the right decision for himself.

If there is a flaw here, it’s that we never get to know Kevin as well as we do Rob, perhaps because in many of his interactions Kevin appears to be putting up a hardened front, not dissimilar to Rob’s and the way he dances upon entry to the courtroom. Briefly Kevin explores the possibilities outside of White Earth, an emerging area of hope, not unlike the late movie evocation of Rob possibly re-embracing his ancestry, where we momentarily glimpse a past photo of him in Indian headdress as he reveals his Indian name – Two Thunderbirds.

It never goes much further than that, content to let an air of mystery remain, underscoring the journey of life itself and how it can push forward, but also loop back around and get stuck. There is not much in the way of drama here; there is mostly just waiting and hanging out, like this lifestyle begs you to go off the rails. That is not an excuse and “The Seventh Fire” never makes one for either of these men, and, frankly, the men themselves don’t either. As the movie progresses, the more sunshine we are allowed to see, though by the end, once again, the images have conspicuously returned to thunderclouds.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

I, Daniel Blake

In Ken Loach’s latest sobering social drama, “I, Daniel Blake”, all the anger rises to the top. If the aesthetic, in keeping with Loach’s usual methods, is often muted, the rage that boils within is not. Written by Paul Laverty, “I, Daniel Blake” is a direct salvo against Britain’s benefits sanctions, against a system that has dropped the ball for those who need it most. This is not, it must be noted, an evenhanded portrayal. Only a single state employee glimpsed throughout is painted in anything like a sympathetic light and even that employee is pulled aside and lectured by a higher-up for deigning to do a good deed. But then, Loach reckons he is speaking for the common man, the one who has no voice because mostly every time he tries to use it he winds up stuck in the wilderness of automated phone lines. This is aggressive advocacy, take it or leave it.


Loach’s fictional advocate is Daniel Blake, a widowed 59 year old carpenter who has just had a heart attack as the film opens and, with danger of an arrhythmia lurking, is told by his doctor that he cannot yet return to work. Fair enough, except he fails a means test for disability benefits, which is relayed during the opening credits over black in audio only, underscoring his invisibility to the system, which forces him to apply for unemployment benefits instead. But to get unemployment benefits he has to prove he’s looking for work, which prompts a sadly comical sequence where he goes by foot from place to place, asking if they are hiring, only to be directed somewhere else, and then directed somewhere else again, a pointless loop since, of course, he can’t even take the job if it’s offered on account of his doctor, which is just the sort of efficient synergizing the powers-that-be are always blathering about, I imagine, at corporate luncheons.

Daniel Blake is played by Dave Johns, a standup comic, and that vocation is put to deft use for the part. There is anger to Daniel Blake, sure, how could their not be, but there is also a tendency in the character to try and diffuse his increasingly agonizing situation with gallows humor. When he gets sent to a resume class he ignores the lessons to crack jokes, and the more absurd his circumstances become, the more he resorts to semi-hysterical exasperation, which Johns makes hysterical no matter how depressing the context. You see this most acutely in the moments where he is forced, as he deals with re-applying for benefits, to tangle with technology.

No doubt the government is not officially ageist, yet “I, Daniel Blake” makes clear how society’s rapid technological advance has nevertheless been inadvertently ageist. Much of what Daniel Blake has to do in order to navigate the maze of red tape is tied back to computers, with which he is either unable or unwilling to wrestle. Little acts of simply clicking a mouse become herculean and are brilliantly juxtaposed with quiet moments of him carving wooden fishes.


In the course of his travails, Daniel becomes friends with Katie (Hayley Squires), a young, desperate mother of three who wigs out in the social security office when she finds herself flummoxed by the same bureaucratic rigmarole as Daniel. If eventually her character is forced to take a hard turn toward inane melodrama, very unbecoming of this otherwise brass tacks screenplay, their relationship is nevertheless the defining quality of the film, where circumstances, regardless of age, sex, or race, force people to foster their own community just as Daniel has at his apartment complex where his neighbors a few doors down invite him around to watch football matches.

If “I, Daniel Blake” is to be believed, the system is broken and few stuck within its maddening circular nature seemingly designed to drive those who need its aid to give up on even trying for that aid. Their only recourse, really, is to fall back on one another for support, whether it’s financial or merely moral, which is what happens in the movie’s most rousing sequence where Daniel inadvertently educes a small crowd to damn-the-man cheers by a graffit-ing a direct challenge to the government on its own walls. Daniel, and everyone else, however, seem to know this won’t spark change. Loach knows it too, but it’s telling that he gives his protagonist this moment anyway.

Loach is angry, but he’s still got some love in his heart. And that, in the end, is what saves “I, Daniel Blake” from simply being a furious pity party or a simple-minded screed, even if that love does not technically save Daniel Blake himself.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Allied

If every story, as some will tell you, owes a debt, in one way or another, to Shakespeare, perhaps every movie owes a debt, in one way or another, to “Casablanca”, even if “Casablanca” owes a debt to “Algiers.” After all, the themes of Michael Curtiz’s B movie cum masterpiece are tenfold and everlasting, its performers embody the definitive combination of Movie Star and Actor, and the movie itself is as funny as it is sad as it is moving as it is suspenseful as it is timely, then and now. Last year as modern an enterprise as Tom Cruise’s indefatigable “Mission: Impossible” franchise quoted “Casablanca”, going so far as to name its principal female character Ilsa and re-imagining the relationship of “Casablanca’s” romantic principals as a pair of spies whose intentions continually shift. Robert Zemeckis’s “Allied” borrows that idea of two spies in a heated romance whose intentions continually shift and takes it back to “Casablanca’s” WWII era, creating an old world melodrama with glimmers of modernity. It’s a spirited thriller fashioned with impeccable craft, with set designs that seamlessly honor classic Hollywood backlots even as they make way for more new-fangled special effects, and a taste for set pieces rendered with so much delightful verve that it doesn’t matter as much as it might have that “Allied” fails to completely come off.


“Allied” opens on a visually intoxicating sequence of Royal Air Force wing commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into French Morocco, one that in terms of narrative efficiency comes across rather superfluous; couldn’t we have just cut to him being handed his fake passport? But that’s okay, because it alludes to Zemeckis repeatedly giving us substantial bang for our buck, and his commitment to conviviality, with notes of earnestness, fills the early sequences as Max makes his way to, that’s right, Casablanca, where he rendezvous with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance spy, posing as his wife. They learn to love, so to speak, to carry out an assassination of some requisite Nazis, but they also learn to love on the level, brought home in an extraordinary sequence where they make love in a car during a sandstorm.

This is “Allied” at its operatic best. Why have them simply get tangled up in the sheets of their Casablanca abode when you can wonderfully excise any lilting strings from the soundtrack to instead have the pounding winds and clamoring dust emblemize the roaring passion to which Max and Marianne necessarily surrender, their sex allowed to play out in a more frank manner than the 1940s, a perfect blending of the way movies were and the way they are. Oh, it’s something else. It’s so good, in fact, that it sort of makes the actual assassination in the next scene beside the point, and heck, Max feels that beside the pointness too, because as they get make their getaway he asks Marianne to marry him.

Their marriage, which includes the birth of a daughter during an air raid, a dramatization of action so wonderfully overblown I laughed out loud, is economically introduced as entirely true – until, that is, the turn. That turn was already revealed, per Zemeckis tradition, in the trailer, but feel free, reader, to skip out if you’re cold and would like to stay that way, unless you can guess what’s coming, which you likely can. Max is summoned by a suitably snooty superior (Simon McBurney) who explains they have strong reason to believe Marianne is a German spy and that if they conclude she is then Max has gotta ante up and ice his daughter’s mother. Yikes.


That is not particularly light-hearted fare, it goes without saying, but Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight have no interest in truly psychologically unpacking what his discovery might mean; they are simply interested in using this discovery to generate suspense. Is she a spy or isn’t she, that’s all that really matters, marking it as a disappointingly simple rendering of what otherwise suggests a compelling deep dive into the darkest matters of the soul.

As the question of Marianne’s identity plays out, Cotillard strikes just the right notes, leading us on without leading us on, while Pitt, as he does throughout the entire movie, simply broods, which is made that much more alarming given his instructions by higher-ups to act as if nothing has changed. Granted, his wife’s a spy and that’ll leave a guy stricken. But then again, he is established as some sort of top league agent of espionage and whereas in all instances Cotillard allows Marianne to effortlessly blend, Pitt works so hard to blatantly evince his character’s internal anguish that, frankly, he stands out like a sore thumb. He’s just about the worst spy you’ve ever seen.

At the same time, however, Pitt’s endless moping actually aids the conclusion, not to be revealed, transforming it from plain tragedy to stately battle readiness. Marianne might recede to the side of most of the back half of this movie to make way for the man, but perhaps she fails to receive equal time because whereas her man struggles with the emotional necessities of duty, she remains eternally rock ribbed. And when push comes to shove, the woman’s the one who’s got the chutzpah to do what needs to be done.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday's Old Fashioned: Night Train to Munich (1940)

Recent events in America have, it goes without saying, made me think about how artists in America can respond to these recent events, and to future events that recent events will no doubt yield. And in thinking about responses, my mind has continually drifted back to Carol Reed’s “Night Train to Munich”, which was released in the midst of WWII. I served it as a Friday’s Old Fashioned a couple years ago and, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to make it a double.  

When Nazis knock on the door at the Prague home of Anna Bomasch (Margaret Lockwood) negating her hopeful escape, she answers dressed in her best and carrying her dog, a paragon of rich pampering about to have her priorities re-ordered. I don’t mean to be flip. Well, maybe I do a little. “Night Train to Munich” clearly means to be flip. It has moments of well-handled genuine dread, to be sure, like an early scene of German bombers appearing in the sky above Prague and peppering the city with leaflets demanding submission. But it was directed by Carol Reed, eventually knighted by his native country of Britain, and released into theaters in the UK in August 1940 right in the midst of the Battle of Britain. And this is important because Reed’s film is not so much a statement of English superiority as a laugh track aimed squarely at Hitler and his Nazi thugs. If anything, “Night Train to Munich” is a comedy, albeit a very subtle, very British comedy, a chance to have an evening out ahead of The Blitz and chuckle at those dufuses in the swastikas.


Reed made no secret of the fact that he lifted much of the story from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.” In turn, Wes Anderson would lift bits of “Night Train to Munich” for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” seventy-four years later, but you can also see where Quentin Tarantino lifted inspiration for his “Inglorious Basterds” version of Der Führer. Ginormous portraits of Adolph in vainglorious repose dot every Nazi office and one German official has a framed picture on his office desk of the head of state in lieu of a family photo. It’s not laugh-out-loud, perhaps, but it’s hilarious, as are the early establishing shots of the film’s Hitler – never completely seen – smacking maps on tables and shouting like he’s conducting a game of Risk. At one point a German officer shouts "You are no longer living in a decadent democracy ruled by a pack of raving intellectuals! This is the Third Reich!" I mean, people.....that's funny.

The Nazis of the film yearn to take a noted Czech scientist, Axel (James Harcourt), Anna’s father, prisoner and use his knowledge for their gain. He escapes just ahead of the invasion. Anna is not so lucky, interred in a concentration camp, but quickly making an escape with another prisoner, Karl (Paul Henreid), for whom she feels affection. She shouldn’t. He’s a spy in a Czech get-up and Anna leads him straight to her father. But when he’s taken, the English agent assigned as his protector, Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison), goes undercover as a German spy to rescue Anna and Axel. And this is how everyone winds up on a night train bound for Munich, though before the film can conclude a stop at a ski chalet straddling the Swiss border will factor in.


With so many masquerading as someone else, only Anna and Axel appear interested in maintaining their real identity, though they, in fact, possess the least amount of character, functioning as humanistic MacGuffins, fueling the plot as it merrily bounds all over western Europe. Consequently, they also seem to be having the least fun, as if they are Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove” and Kubrick forgot to tell them it was a {wink, wink} “drama”. Harrison, on the other hand, gives a genuine pleasure mongering performance, portraying a rather self-satisfied jovialist who regards this entire affair of derring-do as a lark. And purposely, once he slides into the S.S. uniform, he becomes only more self-impressed, sporting a monocle, pompously barking orders and decreeing hat he and Anna pose as ex-lovers who have re-found romance as a cover to make their flight to freedom. After all, why would she deny he, Ulrich Herzog, Third Reich VIP? It is Randall’s and, in turn, Harrison’s commentary on their country’s adversary.

Most emblematic of the film’s spirit, however, are Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford), two chattering Englishmen who essentially pop out of nowhere aboard the train, conveniently recognize Dickie Randall despite his disguise and aim to help. The characters are actually from another movie – “The Lady Vanishes”, as it happens, simply highlighting the two films’ similarities, and here their roles are reprised. This could have become a forced distraction, and while they do factor mightily into plot details, they ultimately function more as delightful stand ins for the whole of Great Britain, not wanting to be left out of the caper, everybody coming along for the ride, all for one and one for all. Their attitude, curious and concerned but good-humored, speaks to the whole project.

Nazism was most famously rendered in "Triumph of the Will", but "Night Train To Munich"  appropriately renders Britainism more like Triumph of the Insouciance.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

10 Made For TV Christmas Movies To Watch This Holiday Season (by synopsis)

It’s the holiday season and in movie-land that means it’s the time for the heaviest awards-hitters to finally be unveiled. For the public, yes, but mostly for the press, for the critics, for the people with access, while most everyone else will have to wait for those persnickety one-week late-December runs until mid-January. And while we here at Cinema Romantico take pride in spotlighting films of fine pedigrees, we also find just as much joy in other places, broader places, ludicrous places, don’t-judge-me places like the Hallmark Channel. After all, Hallmark is Counting Down to Christmas Day with its 24 hour buffet of holiday-themed movies about hard-charging event planners and vaguely defined consultants played by people like Yuletide TV Movie MVP-Emeritus Jennie Garth. I’m not saying I have watched a few of ‘em between bouts of foreign and indie screeners (and at commercials of college football games), but I’m also not saying I haven’t. (I have.)

So if you’re less interested in seeing if Meryl Streep really is deserving of what will undoubtedly be her 234th Oscar Nomination or in learning for yourself whether or not “La La Land” is actually evidence that they do still make ’em like they used to, I’m here to offer the cream of the Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas crop…based on synopsis, of course, because there is nothing more fun on TV than reading the synopsis of a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.


10 Made For TV Christmas Movies To Watch This Holiday Season (by synopsis)

10. Every Christmas Has a Story. “While on air, a TV personality accidentally admits she hates Christmas. When she goes to a small town to film a special to repair her image, the Christmas spirit begins to change her life.” Starring: Lori Loughlin. Let us count the ways: “TV personality”, “hates Christmas”, “small town”, “Christmas spirit” & “Lori Loughlin”. It’s as customary as a recipe for Christmas pudding.

9. Fir Crazy. “A reluctant Christmas tree seller (Sarah Lancaster) finds renewed holiday spirit and new romance with a repeat customer, but a mean spirited exec threatens to shut down her family's business.” No doubt this will be like the Hallmark version of “Christmas, Again”.

8. Window Wonderland. “A department-store window decorator learns there is a vacancy for her dream job in the run-up to Christmas, only to find a professional rival has his eye on it too.” This bad boy was directed by some dude named Michael Scott, which I imagine as the Alan Smithee of Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies, and stars Chyler Leigh in the principal role as Sloan Van Doren, which is an A-level Elvis Movie name.

7. Sleigh Bells Ring. “Laurel (Erin Cahill) is in charge of her hometown’s Christmas parade, and with budget cuts, she’s having trouble making it a special event this year and, after a recent divorce, getting into the holiday spirit. When she and her daughter Scarlett cross paths with a lone farmer who has a sleigh that he claims came from Santa crash-landing on his property years ago, they are both skeptical.”  “Jonathan, bring me my green light!”

6. Christmas List. “Isobel Gray (Alicia Witt) plans a storybook Christmas with her boyfriend, including a snow-covered cottage in the Northwest, and a carefully composed bucket list of classic holiday traditions. But when the boyfriend goes AWOL, the list proves challenging and a tempting new romance turns her life upside down.” In the last few years Alicia Witt has been making a play to officially install herself as Jennie Garth’s successor to Yuletide TV Movie MVP, starring in several Hallmark Holiday offerings, and as a longtime Witt fan, this blog approves. I have caught a few moments of this one and, I have to say, when Witt gets kissed by the guy she is slated to fall in love with even though she is ostensibly in love with this other guy even though this other guy is so requisitely awful that he asks for a gluten free option at some small town diner, Witt’s reaction shot is good enough to make you believe that, despite the Hallmark predestination, she really is suddenly emotionally confused. That’s how the Yuletide TV Movie MVP do.


5. Angels Sing. “During the holidays, a mysterious stranger (Willie Nelson) tries to help a man (Harry Connick Jr.) overcome his tragic past and find the Christmas spirit he lost many years ago.” It’s worth nothing that this gem of a synopsis does not even include Connie Britton, or Kris Kristofferson, or Lyle Lovett, or that in this unwieldy promo Lyle Lovett appears to wearing a Candy Cane Proton Pack. Really, how did this not get a theatrical run?

4. Falling for Christmas. “An injured figure skater travels to a rehabilitation center and meets an ice fisherman who shows her that there is more to life than competing.” This is UPtv rather than Hallmark, meaning positivity with a religious bent will win the day. Even so, that synopsis brings me great joy, and I cannot stop imagining a melding of “The Cutting Edge” with “Grumpy Old Men”, except that instead of Grumpy Old Men it’s a Handsome, If Cautious On Account Of Past Heartbreak, Younger Man, like Mark Darcy, say, in a thermal underwear. And that the figure skater is less Peggy Fleming and more Ashley Wagner since she doesn’t have time for your games.

3. Broadcasting Christmas. “When two exes compete for the same co-host position at the nation's favorite morning show in Manhattan, they discover that the fire that burned between them is still alive.” Starring: Melissa Joan Hart, Dean Cain. That synopsis combined with the Hart + Cain Factor is so good I had no choice but to watch this movie. No, really, I watched it. Review to come... No, really, review to come.

2. “An actress heads to the Christmas-obsessed town of Homestead, Iowa, to shoot a holiday-themed movie. She is shocked when a romance blooms with Matt, a single dad. As she gets a taste of small-town life, she discovers the true meaning of Christmas.” I confess, what really sells this one for me is Homestead, Iowa, considering my Iowa heritage. I mean, I am dying to see how they portray Iowa here. Like, how many shots before we see a bale of hay? Two? Three? Because you just know the overworked set designer in Burbank assumes that every corner in every Iowa town is adorned with a bale of hay. I can just imagine all kinds of colorful, polite yokels saying things like “We don’t usually go in for you high-falutin’ Hollywood folk” only to find their preconceived notions altered. This, frankly, would be a surefire #1 in any other year, except that this year there is also.....


1. A Rose For Christmas. “Andy (Rachel Boston) is a passionate and talented artist whose Pasadena family has been building Rose Parade floats for generations. But when her Dad gets sick and can’t lead this year’s efforts as usual, Andy has no choice but to take the helm and supervise the construction and decoration of their client’s float over Christmas with only a few weeks to go.” OMG!!! It’s a Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie......AT THE ROSE BOWL!!!!!!!! (Nick passes out.)