Thursday, November 30, 2023

What's the Deal With Those Hallmark Holiday Movies? - Rosy the Reviewer Weighs in - Which Movies Will Make Your Holiday Bright and Which Movies Will Turn You Into the Grinch?

It's that time of year again.  Hallmark holiday movies abound, and I have to admit, I have not really fallen for them in past years, but I decided to do my duty for you, do a bit of bingeing to see if any of them would get my holiday bells ringing and to help you decide which ones you should watch. You are welcome.

Now we all know that all Hallmark holiday movies are pretty much the same.  The most common storyline involves an overstressed, overworked woman who returns to her sweet small hometown and meets a farmer/storekeeper/ widower (fill in the blank) and falls in love while at the same time finding a more meaningful life either by winning some home-spun competition or by saving the town when some corporate bad guy wants to foreclose on the hotel/store/farm (fill in the blank). 

Other tropes involve:

  • Man and woman " meet cute" or "meet ugly" - Meeting "ugly" - you know, the opposite of "meet cute." "Meet cute" is some adorable way a couple meets - he knocks her over in a park and they bond over their love of Jerry Lewis movies (look it up) or some other oddity. "Meet ugly" means they immediately hate each other.
  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl...girl meets boy, girl loses boy...they find each other know the drill.
  • There is often a dog, a well-meaning older person, magical entity or device or an overly precocious child who brings our couple together (don't get me started on overly precocious children in movies)!
  • Sometimes someone dies or royalty is involved (usually the boyfriend turns out to be a prince) 
  • Often starring mostly unknown actors or ex-child stars needing a career boost
  • Someone sings a Christmas song
  • Often filmed in Canada but pretending to be in the U.S.
  • Always a message
  • And, of course, it snows. 

All of the movies have some or all of those components.  

So why do we watch if we know how they are going to turn out?  We watch because the predictability is comforting and all of these movies end with some important message that reminds us of the meaning of the holidays - be kind, show grace toward others, be generous, love your family and find the courage to live a meaningful life.  Or something like that.

So let's get in the mood. Put on your Santa hat, start a fire in the fireplace, cuddle up under a fluffy blanket, get a glass of wine and cozy up to the TV with me for some holiday cheer.  And remember, I do this all for you.  

Happy Holidays.

The Santa Summit (2023)

Liam (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Jordan (Hunter King) meet at a "Santa Summit."

What's a "Santa Summit?"

It's a holiday celebration where everyone in town goes bar hopping dressed like a Santa.  Liam finds and returns Jordin's wallet that sports an adorable embroidered house on it that she designed herself.  It's her dream house. You see, she never got to live in a nice house.  Fittingly, turns out Liam is a builder. There is an instant attraction, even though they are dressed as Santas and never take off their beards. Something in the eyes. But then they get separated and since they forgot to share their info, how will they find each other in a sea of Santas?

Well, we know they will, but remember, it's the journey.  And is this an enjoyable journey?  Well...yes it is, thanks to an engaging cast: Liam and his brother, Mac (Dan De Jaeger); Jordin and her friends - the grumpy, Stella (Stephanie Sy), and Ava (Amy Groening), the "Lord of the Rings" fan - both of whom are looking for love; and others they meet along the way.

Written by Russell Hainline and directed by Jeff Beesley, there are many of those "just missing each other set ups" and little adventures as the two run around town trying to reconnect. Do we care if they find each other?  Of course, it's Christmas!  Don't be a Grinch!

King and Hollingsworth are engaging actors as are the rest of the ensemble and they create a fun holiday atmosphere.

Only a few of the usual Hallmark movie tropes are in evidence here -

  • The two "meet cute" and bond over their love of tacos and the movie "Casablanca" - check
  • Liam is a builder who has just moved to Jordin's small town to get away from a job he didn't like and to find meaning  - check
  • By meets girl, boy loses girl and vice versa but they find each other- check
  • Someone sings a Christmas song - check
  • Filmed in Canada with unknown actors - How did I know it was filmed in Canada?  When one of the actors said the word "about," it came out "aboot." - check
  • And there is a message: "You don't become happy because you find love.  You find love because you are already happy."  And here much of the happiness comes from friendship - check and check.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun little romp that will warm your heart and make you look for some mistletoe.

A World Record Christmas (2023)

Based on a true story, a young Washington State autistic teen attempts to break a world record by stacking Jenga blocks.

Charlie (Aias Dalman) wants one thing for Christmas.  He want to break a world record.  And that's actually not an odd thought because he lives in a town known for breaking a Guinness world record every year (this year the town is going for wrapping the most presents in an hour).  So what does Charlie decide to do?  He decides to break the world record for stacking Jenga blocks onto one vertical block. The record is 1400 blocks! He also gets the idea to get the town involved by making his attempt a fundraiser for autistic kids. Decorate a Jenga block and help a kid.

But Charlie is also hoping his breaking the record will get the attention of his  absent biological Dad, Peter (Matt Hamilton).  He believes his Dad is absent because he is ashamed of him. Considering his Dad lives nearby, no, Charlie, he's just a jerk.  Charlie also wants the attention of his friend, Amy (Daphne Hoskins), whom he is starting to have feelings for. Meanwhile, Charlie's mother, Marissa (Nikki Deloach), and stepdad, Eric (Lucas Bryant), are very supportive parents but they are struggling with a bad patch in their marriage.

Written by Mark Hefti and Antonio Cupo and based on the real life story of Aulden Maxwell, who in fact broke the world record for stacking jenga blocks and who makes a cameo appearance, this is a refreshing break from the usual Hallmark holiday movie fare. It feels natural and real.  And yes, Charlie is autistic but that is not portrayed as a limitation nor is it necessarily the centerpiece. He's just a kid who wants his Dad to be proud of him. Directed by Jason Bourque, this movie is all about family.  And did I say it's heart-warming?  Well, it is. And I mean that in a good way. No cheese here.

The actors are wonderful - believable and real, especially Aias, the young autistic actor who plays Charlie. And much of the action takes place in a library, of which I approve.

Yes, it's supposed to be Washington State and was filmed in Canada, but that's the only predictable trope. Well it snows, too, but this Hallmark holiday film is able to avoid the often cheesy tropes to give us a film about acceptance, about family, about community, and one that focuses on a mature romance. It also reminds us that one doesn't need to be a biological Dad to be a real Dad.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is what the holiday season is supposed to be about.  Do yourself a favor and see this film. It's destined to be a classic. It will make even the most Grinchiest of you shed a happy tear or two.

A Biltmore Christmas (2023)

A screenwriter is hired to rewrite a classic 1947 holiday movie and finds herself transported back in time to the set of the original film.

Lucy Hardgrove (Bethany Joy Lenz) is a screenwriter and gets her dream job - writing the script for a remake of a beloved 1947 holiday movie, "His Merry Wife!" (think "It's a Wonderful Life.") "His Merry Wife!" was filmed at the historic Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, so when the head of the studio doesn't like the ending that Lucy has written for the remake because it deviates from the original's happy ending (she is a bit of a cynic about happy endings and doesn't believe people really makes sacrifices for those they love), he sends her to the Biltmore Estate for inspiration and to rethink her ending.

While there, Lucy is transported back in time to the original 1947 set of "His Merry Wife!" thanks to a magical hour glass and she meets the star of the film, Jack Huston (Kristoffer Polaha) and they fall in love. She is able to hop back and forth with the help of the hourglass and Margaret (A.K. Benninghofen), a goofy woman she meets there, and Lucy actually finds herself in the movie but you know what happens when you travel back in time, right? When you do it, you run the risk of changing the future so Lucy must stay back in 1947 to make things right before she can return to the future.

Directed by John Putch, the film starts out in black and white with a bad Jimmy Stewart impression featuring the filming of the original movie, which is how I knew this was a bit of a send-up of "It's a Wonderful Life." The Jimmy Stewart thing. But surprisingly, this movie is a also a bit of a parody of Hallmark movies themselves, which I found refreshing. The actors were fun, and written by Marcy Holland, this was a nice departure from the usual Hallmark holiday movie.

The Biltmore is a lovely setting for a film and, I guess there was too much of an opportunity to resist to promote the Biltmore and Asheville and, boy, do they, but you can set your DVR and fast forward through the ads if you want.  But also refreshing that this movie was actually filmed there, not in Canada, not that I have anything against Canada.

This one is not that trope heavy but there are some constants here:

  • Magical device helps Lucy travel back in time and meet the leading man - check
  • Someone sings a Christmas song - check
  • It snows - check
  • And there is a message: Cynical writer discovers that people do really give up what they want to make someone else happy.

Rosy the Reviewer says...cynical reviewer enjoyed this one.


A Merry Scottish Christmas (2023)

Out of the blue, estranged siblings Leslie (Lacey Chabert) and Brad (Scott Wolf) are summoned to a Scottish castle by their mother, Jo (Fiona Bell).  

Turns out their mother had some secrets. She was born in that castle and is a Duchess! They always thought she was a hippie! Not wanting to fulfill her destiny, Jo ran away with an American and made up lies about herself. All news to her kids.

Brad is married and he and his wife are having trouble getting pregnant so are doing IVF.  Leslie is single, a doctor, and married to her work, frustrated by the fact that there is so much administrative work.  Of course, Leslie meets Mac (James Robinson), a handsome Scottish fellow and romance is in the air, but what this movie is really focused on is the relationship between siblings, Leslie and Brad, and what will bring them back together.  Written by Audrey Shulman, Andrea Canning, and Dustin Rikert and directed by Rikert, this is a nice departure from the usual Hallmark movie romance. 

But you are not home free does this film fulfill the usual Hallmark Holiday Movie tropes?

  • Scott Wolf needed a gig - check
  • Leslie doesn't marry a prince but there is royalty involved - she is a Duchess - check
  • At least it wasn't filmed in Canada (but it wasn't filmed in Scotland either.  It was filmed in Ireland)! check - non-check
  • And there is a message - Family is important - check.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the brother/sister angle is a nice departure from the usual Hallmark rom/com and it all takes place in a beautiful location with a great message.

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

"Priscilla" and the Week in Reviews

[I review the new Priscilla Presley biopic "Priscilla" as well as the documentary biopic "Donyale Luna: Supermodel." The Book of the Week is Sly Stone's autobiography "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"]

"Priscilla" (2023)

Priscilla Presley's story about meeting and marrying Elvis.

There are those who might make the case that director Sophia Coppola is a Nepo Baby, that her career as a director is because of her famous director father, Francis Ford Coppola, whose "Godfather" films shot him into that stratosphere called Greatest Directors Of All Time.  But all one has to do to smash that case against her is to see her films ("Lost in Translation," "The Beguiled," "The Virgin Suicides.")  Where her father's films were mostly big and epic, hers are smaller and quieter and moody.  She creates an atmosphere that engulfs you.

Based on her 1986 memoir, "Elvis and Me," this is Priscilla Presley's story about meeting and marrying Elvis.  It's a cautionary tale that illustrates the aphorism "Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true."  

Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) met Elvis (Jacob Elordi) when she was 14 and he was 24, serving his time in the Army in Germany where Priscilla's father was also serving.  She was a 9th grader and like most 9th graders in 1957 had a crush on Elvis.  And like most of those young girls with crushes on Elvis, she fantasized about being his girlfriend or even his wife.  I can relate.  I wanted to marry Paul McCartney.  But here's the problem.  You marry a star and you become a satellite. In many cases, it's a lonely life because your star is off shining brightly elsewhere while you are supposed to "keep the home fires burning."  And that was the case with Priscilla Presley.

What does a 24 year old man see in a 14 year old girl, you may ask? 

Uh... I am not going to go there, but let's just say this film had some cringey moments.  Elvis clearly wanted a malleable girlfriend and there is nothing more malleable than a googly-eyed underage girl. After their first meeting, Elvis and Priscilla didn't see each other again for two years but they kept in touch by phone until somehow Elvis talked Priscilla's parents into letting her move to Graceland when she was 16.  Though "chaperoned" by Elvis's dad and stepmother, Priscilla was basically a sixteen-year-old girl sleeping with a 26 year old man, a 26 year old man who liked to pillow fight, but also hang with his buddies and take drugs. To be clear, supposedly nothing really untoward happened between them until Priscilla and he married when she was 21. However, when she got pregnant and had Lisa-Marie, Elvis appeared to lose interest in Priscilla.  That tells you something right there. 

This film, adapted from Presley's book by the late Sandra Harmon and Coppola and directed by Coppola, takes us behind the scenes of Priscilla's and Elvis's marriage, and if it hadn't been co-produced by Priscilla Presley herself, you would think this stuff was made up.  Elvis loved Priscilla and molded her into his perfect woman -told her how to dress and how to wear her hair - but he also cheated on her and had a bad temper. It's all here. Though she loved him, her life was not her own and she found the courage to leave him when she was 27. Five years later, Elvis was dead at 42. Presley maintains she never stopped loving him.

Coppola captures the era from the mini-skirts and the bouffant hair to the cars with the big tailfins, so the film is fun to watch but the highlight of the film is the tour de force performance of newcomer Cailee Spaeny who is 100% believable as Priscilla from the first time we meet her at 14 to when she leaves her marriage at 27.  All of the longing and loneliness of her young life with a living legend is written all over her. And Elordi is a nice, big, handsome Elvis.  Both of these actors are ones to watch.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...a truth is stranger than fiction love story and Spaeny's performance is not to be missed.

Donyale Luna: Supermodel (2023)

The life and career of Donyale Luna.

Never heard of her?  Neither had I. I am always fascinated by documentaries about people I've never heard of and then discovering why.

Model Donyale Luna was born Peggy Ann Freeman in Detroit. Though she was American, her popularity as a model was mostly in Europe in the 1960's but she is credited as being the first black supermodel.  She was also the first African-American model to appear on the cover of British Vogue.  Strange how someone who was once so famous has been forgotten.

Donyale grew up in a middle class family in Detroit and had two sisters.  She was a sensitive artist type growing up in a turbulent home situation (her parents married and divorced four times and her mother eventually shot her abusive father), and it was also a time rife with racism. She was also bullied at school for her exotic looks.  She was very tall and lanky with long arms and legs. It was in high school that she adopted the name Donyale Luna and started speaking with an accent of her own making, probably wanting to create a persona to hide behind.  She was a dreamer, who was known for walking around outside barefoot, which is odd for Detroit, and creating fantasies about her life. Her own sister thought she was weird.

Photographer David McCabe discovered Donyale, and when she left Detroit and went to New York City, she was introduced to fashion magazine editors and photographer Richard Avedon, who signed her to an exclusive contract. A sketch of Luna appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in 1965, the first time in 98 years that a black woman appeared on the cover but it was a sketch that was "ethnically ambiguous." But then Luna appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 1966, the first time Vogue put a black model on the cover.

But despite success, Luna also experienced racial prejudice which could explain why she always downplayed her racial identity, saying she was multiracial, that her biological father's name was Luna and her mother was Mexican and Afro-Egyptian. She claimed Irish and Polynesian heritage. She also told tall tales and wore blue contact lenses in an attempt to recreate herself. But that's what racism can do, make people deny their own roots and try to create another world for themselves. 

Despite some initial success in New York, there were complaints about her appearances in the magazines and some designers wouldn't allow her to wear their clothes.  She lost her contract with Avedon and eventually had a nervous breakdown.  But after her recovery, she moved to Europe where she was embraced for her exotic looks, and by 1966 Vogue named her "Model of the Year," and she worked throughout Europe, becoming a muse for Salvador Dali and acting in Fellini's "Satyricon," but her demons (depression, drugs and possibly mental illness) eventually caught up with her and she died at 33 of a drug overdose in 1979, leaving behind her 18 month old daughter.

Along with archival footage, Luna's daughter reads from her mother's journals and Donyale's ex-husband, sister and fashion icons who knew Donyale weigh in, giving her credit for her impact on the industry.

Directed by Nailah Jefferson, the film is about Luna, but it has a larger context, that of the color barrier that existed for models (and for most people of color in most professions in those days). She was also eccentric and died young. That is perhaps why Luna has been mostly forgotten today.

But Donyale Luna mattered.  She not only paved the way for other black models but was loving and kind to all who knew her.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating story, and a sad one, that is perhaps not for everyone, but it's yet another reminder of the prejudice that African-Americans have had to endure, not just in modeling, but in many facets of life and the pain that racism creates. (Max)

***The Book of the Week***

"Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir" by Sly Stone (2023)

Singer Sly Stone relates his story.

It's difficult to believe that with everything Sly Stone got himself into, he is still alive today at 83.

Front man for the sixties pop-rock-funk group Sly and the Family Stone, Sly was also a songwriter known for such hits as "Everyday People' and "Family Affair."  He was a memorable performer in the 1960's and 70's and caused a huge buzz at Woodstock.

But he was also an addict.

In this memoir, Sly relates the ups and downs of his life and career.  He started as a radio DJ and record producer and made his way to the top of the rock music industry in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but his personal life has been mostly a mystery until now, and he has been out of the public eye for years, some of those years broke and homeless.  

So how did Sly's highs become so low? 

Written with Ben Greenman, Sly is candid about it all, especially the drugs that brought him down. And it's not clear if he is really clean, even now at 83. A recent interview with family members recounts how they literally had to keep the drug dealers from the door to protect him from himself.

Rosy the Reviewer fans and music enthusiasts will enjoy this, especially if you have wondered whatever happened to him. (check it out at your local library)!

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!