Media Monday: Christmas Movies

They have a certain reputation. Especially those from the Hallmark Channel. Sugary sweet. Predictable. So cheesy you can see through the plot holes. But they are incredibly popular and are many people’s (okay, many women’s) favorite holiday traditions and a highlight of the season.

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I go in waves. A couple of years ago I probably watched a couple dozen of them. Last year, I maybe watched two. This year, I’ve watched about six or seven. I often have them on in the background while I’m doing something else. But also this year, Stud Muffin has suggested one several evenings. I think because we had a fairly stressful fall season, and it feels good to watch something and not have to think too much about it.

In a probable corollary, he said yesterday he was done with watching The Rookie. We were fans of Castle and Nathan Fillion so when The Rookie premiered in 2018 we watched it. Talk about cheesy. Fillion is a rookie on the LAPD, having attended the academy after a divorce and sending his son off to college. So many of the storylines were implausible and pure Hollywood. For the first season, Stud Muffin could tolerate them, even if he had to hold his nose. But since we’ve been home, we’ve been catching up on season 2 and, maybe because we’re powering through/binge watching/not watching an episode a week, he said couldn’t do any more. That’s fine with me. I’m not a huge fan. Because often when he bails on a show, it was one I didn’t want to watch, but I agree, I get hooked, and he gets bored and quits. Survivor. The Voice. American Idol. To name a few.

Anyway, enough with that rabbit trail. Back to Hallmark.

Some of them are surprisingly good. And some of them are embarrassingly bad. Here are my thoughts on a few I’ve watched this year. Note though that not all of them are strictly “Hallmark.” Some have been on Lifetime, Ion, or Up. But they’re all in the Christmas romance category. And they’re listed here in no particular order. Not the order I watched them in, and not the order of preference.

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Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen: This one was the most disappointing, I felt. I love Jane Austen and Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorites of hers. So I expected to love this. But … eh. First of all, the writers switched the personalities of Ellinor and Marianne. In this story, Ellie was more distractable and likely to ditch her job and duty while Marianne was the steady and dependable one.¬† Also, Edward Ferris was a competent businessman. There was very little conflict and even less plot (planning a Christmas party).

A Firehouse Christmas: Not the best, but far from the worst, with a nice message about parental expectations on kids. Tom’s soon-to-be-ex, Mary, has a new relationship book out and she wants the public to think they’re still happily married. He wants to spend the holiday with his firefighter girlfriend, Jenny, and his daughter.

Switched for Christmas: It’s a requirement that you must watch at least one Christmas movie with Candace Cameron Bure and this year I chose Switched for Christmas. It’s a download (8)few years old, but I hadn’t seen it before. It’s not the usual plot. No evil land developer is looking to take over the local resort. No snow storm strands a traveler in the small town (see Christmas Town below, another Candace movie). Candace plays identical twins, one a suburban working single mom, the other an urban single career woman. When they envy each others’ life, they decide to swap for a week. This one was a pleasant surprise. Even Stud Muffin enjoyed it more than he expected.

A Christmas Recipe for Romance: Based on a novel written by a friend of a friend, who is also in an online chapter of Romance Writers of America that I’m a member of. So I watched it to be supportive, not sure what to expect. It was quite good! Definitely predictable, but that didn’t detract from the charm. There is a failing inn that needs money to survive. A plucky inn manager determined to win a cooking contest. A disgraced chef whom she turns to for cooking lessons. You know how it ends. I knew how it ended, but I’d read the book. ūüėČ

 

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There might be a formula …

Christmas Town: Another Candace Cameron Bure movie, this one with the predictable plot of getting stranded in a small town by a winter storm, falling in love with the town and a man. This one has the added plot twists of kids in foster care, a broken angel, and letters from the past. It was better than it sounds.

A Christmas Love Story: I recorded this one because I’m a Kristin Chenowith fan (and I don’t hate Scott Wolf) and it was refreshing to watch a music teacher conduct a choir with authenticity, not aimlessly waving their arms. This one was somewhat predictable, but it has a great plot twist that wasn’t telegraphed too early. The music included true download (11)Christmas music, not just about jingle bells and snowmen. Kristin is a music teacher who needs to compose a new song for her Christmas choir’s concert. Her newest student’s single father is opposed to his son singing and taking time away from preparing for college and his business degree. You can see where this is going. But trust me, it’s good.

You Light Up My Christmas: In Lifetime’s efforts at being more diverse and inclusive, this one stars Kim Fields from the sitcom Facts of Life. Her costars from that show Lisa Welchel and Mindy Cohn have small parts too, for added nostalgia factors. Kim plays Emma who returns to her hometown to sell her family home only to get pulled back into the family business and, of course, sparks fly with her former boyfriend. It was another one that wasn’t great, but not terrible.

Bonus:

Marry Me at Christmas: This one is a couple of years old and it’s the only one I’ve rewatched. It’s based on a book by one of my favorite authors, Susan Mallery. Johnny Blake, a famous Hollywood action star, comes to Fool’s Gold to help plan his sister’s wedding. He hits it off with the actual wedding planner, Madeline, and you know the rest of the story. Except this one has actual conflict (his career and need for privacy vs. her trust issues and business partner’s focus on publicity for their wedding shop). It’s very good.

 

Media Monday: They Shall Not Grow Old

I had the opportunity last week to see Peter Jackson’s documentary on the first World War. Jackson, of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fame, was approached by the Imperial War Museums in Great Britain about making a WWI film for the war’s centennial end in November 2018.

Jackson is a history buff, particularly the first World War because his grandfather fought in it. He considered how to make a movie that was unique and original before accepting the assignment.

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The film is indeed unique and original.

Starting with archival film footage that was restored and colorized, Jackson then added voice recordings of veterans telling some of their experiences on the Western Front in Belgium.

The result is gripping, emotional, and will linger long after you leave the theatre.

There was an additional thirty minute “making of” documentary after the documentary, where Jackson explained some of the reasoning behind his directorial choices, as well as how he employed lip readers, sound effects, and so on.

The whole ended up being two hours of history, film-making, with a bit of personal memoir.

The documentary is in limited release. If you can find it, I highly recommend seeing it.

 

Media Monday: Podcasts

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I listen to lots of podcasts while I’m driving. Since I live at least twenty minutes from shopping/restaurants/doctors/coffee shops/church/most friends, that means I listen a lot.

Some of my current faves:

Mike Rowe:¬†The Way I Heard It.¬†Part Paul Harvey’s¬†The Rest of the Story, part Mike’s inimitable story telling with a twist, this is a short podcast. Each episode is about ten minutes and I finish it with a smile on my face.

Malcolm Gladwell: Revisionist History. I’m a Gladwell fangirl and this podcast is only fueling my obsession. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but they’re presented logically, concisely, and without the emotional presuppositions that detract from many other social commentators offerings. We’re in Season 3 and the episodes have included topics such as the reliability of memory, immigration policies, and traumatic brain injuries. Fascinating.

Relevant Magazine: Relevant Magazine Podcast¬†This is the first podcast I listened to regularly and I still enjoy it, even though I’m older than their demographic target audience. They’ve given me a different perspective on some issues, and are a funny bunch as well.

You Must Remember This: “The Podcast About the Secret and/or Forgotten History of Hollywood’s First Century.” I’ve listened to seasons as varied as the Blacklist, Dead Blondes, Jean (Seberg) and Jane (Fonda), and Boris (Karloff) and Bela (Lugosi). Fascinating stuff!

Also in my subscription list, although these are of the I’ll-listen-when-I-get-around-to-it variety as opposed to Oooh-a-new-episode-must listen-now kind.

Jen Hatmaker

TED Radio Hour

How to Human

Ask Science Mike

What are your favorite podcasts???

I’m always looking for something to keep me occupied that doesn’t involve eating, texting, or Words with Friends while driving.

Media Monday: Magazines

I quit subscribing to magazines several years ago because:

magazines.jpgI’m too much of an A personality and

I can’t throw out something I haven’t read and

I have to read them straight through, no skimming, so

I don’t make time to read them so

I end up with a dust-covered stack that adds to my already handicapping guilt complex about not getting enough done in my days.

A few months ago I went through the stack, ripping out articles I wanted to read and throwing out the rest of the magazine.

Now I just have a stack of articles/pages to reproach me, instead of the full magazine. I’ve been whittling down the stack. Last week I read an article about Drew Barrymore and her role in the “new” HBO film¬†Grey Gardens. She’s had 2 children since that interview, but it still did its job: it piqued my interest in the film and I added it to my Netflix queue.

And somehow, in spite of no new subscriptions, the stack is again growing. Because I belong to a professional association (Romance Writers of America¬ģ), I get a monthly magazine from them. Because I ordered something from JustFab, somehow I’m getting InStyle. I used to have a free subscription from¬†mileage points to Entertainment Weekly. I was relieved when that lapsed, because I can barely cope with monthly guilt, never mind weekly. But guess what came in the mail Saturday? Yep, an Entertainment Weekly that says I’m subscribed for a¬†year!

I did subscribe last December to Relevant Magazine, because I enjoy the podcast and the magazine only comes out six times a year. I figured I could handle a magazine every other month. Nope. I’m about three issues behind right now.

But I’m resolved, this week, to get back to just a stack of articles instead of magazines.

Onward.

But I’m curious. How many people still subscribe to magazines and read them? Do you? What do you subscribe to? Do you read it?

Media Monday: Games People Play

I play Words With Friends every day. Word Chums most days. Candy Crush Saga some days.

I’ve played Word Brain, Draw Something, and Angry Birds.

wwfThey’re all fun and fine. Word Brain just got too dang hard. Draw Something became tedious because I: a) can’t draw well to begin with and b) really can’t draw well with my finger on a screen. I do still play Draw Something with my granddaughter, but that’s it. When she gets bored and moves on, I’ll delete it again.

Angry Birds is still fun but it can be too addicting. It’s too easy to keep saying ‘one more try,’ and then a half hour goes by. With Candy Crush, when I run out of lives (usually in about fifteen minutes), then my play time is over.

I try to not respond to WWF and Word Chums every time I get a notification. They’re fun, but they can be a time suck. And I want to have something more to show for my day than having “fun” while glued to a phone screen.

Oh, pearlI also play Pearl’s Perils on Facebook. It’s a hidden object kind of game. I’m about to burn out on it too. It has limited lives which is good, but you have to earn “badges” and “decorate” your island to advance and I’m no longer accumulating the virtual coins to keep the next level open when I get there and I have to spend days playing levels I’ve already finished in order to accumulate coins. I know it’s on purpose by the designers to get players to pay real money for virtual money. That makes zero sense to me, so I don’t. Although they occasionally run a sale and I may pay $1.99 for a bunch of fake money and extra lives.

What’s your favorite game app? Is it a time suck? How do you avoid the whole time suck wormhole?

 

Media Monday: Gilmore Girls

I’m sure I’ve blogged about them before, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Lane Kim. Luke. Miss Patty. Babette. Dean. Jess. Zack. Logan. Richard and Emily. Gypsy. Kirk.
ggI could keep going. Lulu. Michel. Sookie and Jackson. Taylor. Christopher. April. Paris.

Okay, I’m done.

Mrs. Kim. Andrew. Marty.

Guess I wasn’t done.

I’ve been rewatching the series from the beginning to prepare for the new Netflix mini-series in November. Every time I watch this I’m in awe of the writing, the characters, the dialogue, the stories.

I love how the characters are almost archetypes, but then … they’re not.

Mrs. Kim, stereotypical Korean Tiger mother, is a staunch Seventh-Day Adventist.

Gil, the long blond-haired rocker is a rock and roll dude who’s crazy about his wife and kids and runs a sandwich shop to pay the bills.

Logan, the trust fund kid who … well, he’s a trust fund kid but he grows up during the last three seasons and we get to watch.

No other show makes me pause it at least once per episode to google an obscure reference that either went by too fast for me to get or I just didn’t get.

Last¬†weekend I learned about the “Mountain Girl trial,” and all about Carolyn Adams Garcia, Ken Kesey, and Jerry Garcia. Illuminating.

Stud Muffin just shakes his head as he walks through. I used to try to ignore him while I watched, but now I pause it until he’s done. He usually gets the hint and stops talking so I can return to the show. Because that witty banter requires every once of concentration I can give it.

 

 

Media Monday: Florence Foster Jenkins

Anyone who’s watched Mamma Mia! or Ricki and The Flash knows Meryl Streep can carry a tune. She has a good to great voice. So I can imagine the stretch it was to play Florence Foster Jenkins in her new movie by the same name.

Mrs. Jenkins can sing all right. She just sings … badly. Flat. Off key. And with some rhythmic pacing problems, too. But because she’s rich, she can hire the best accompanists, vocal coaches, and staff. And she does.

FFJThe movie is a dramatization of the life of the real Florence Foster Jenkins, a socialite in the 1930s and ’40s. Mrs. Jenkins loved to sing and she organized one of the New York city musicale societies that were popular then. They would present living tableaus to music.

In real life, Mrs. Jenkins was told she couldn’t sing and received lots of criticism. In the movie, her husband (played by Hugh Grant, who, may I say has been absent from movies for too long, and, while showing his age [finally!], is still looking very fine), works hard to keep all honest opinions far from her ears.

The story is about Mrs. Jenkins deciding to bless New York and returning World War II veterans with a Carnegie Hall concert. Her other concerts were invitation-only affairs, rather easy to keep kind and receptive. Carnegie Hall … not so much.

There is a lovely message about being there for one’s friends, about love persevering, and about following one’s dreams, no matter the cost.

Towards the end of the movie, we hear Florence sing as she hears herself. She acknowledges her critics with a quote, said by the real woman: “They may say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

Isn’t that the kind of people we want to be? Or is it just me?

The kind of person who wants to dance/golf/sing/cook/write/paint/play tennis/design clothing/do anything and who doesn’t let fear of what others will think or say stop them.

That’s a message I can get behind.

The movie is good, if gentle in pacing. The performances are solid, particularly Streep and Grant and a great supporting performance by Simon Helberg as Jenkins’s accompanist. Helberg is better know as Howard on¬†The Big-Bang Theory.

Over all, I enjoyed this movie and recommend it.