Tag Archives: Hallmark

Pretty Little Distractions

The world is too much with me these days, my friends, and thus I find myself searching for solace in story. When my aging eyes are strained from work, I’m less enthused about escaping into a book; luckily, there have been plenty of satisfying/distracting stories to be found on the small screen lately.

Once upon a time I received eye rolls and sneers when I mentioned Hallmark movies (and perhaps there was a time when I sneered), but these days more and more of my friends are watching right along with me. I’ve found this year’s “Winterfest” offerings to be pretty strong. Of course there’s a formula, and we all know who is getting together by the end of the movie, but there’s some comfort to be derived from that, right? The above two films were particular favorites of mine — the dialogue was snappy and the chemistry between the leads fun to watch. (Note: Hallmark finally is introducing more diversity into their productions, which is great, but I think we’re all MORE than ready for diverse romantic leads, okay? Can we get on that soon?)

DVR ALERT: All four of the Winterfest movies will run this Saturday (1/27) starting at 1 EST. And coming very soon from Hallmark — the Valentine’s Day movies!

Too sappy for you? Well, let’s do a 180 with these options:

Lately I’ve become obsessed with the horror films of Mike Flanagan. (And yes, HE is the writer/director for the forthcoming Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House!) My obsession began when one of my favorite YouTube film reviewers, Chris Stuckmann, included Gerald’s Game in his list of favorite films of 2017. His recommendation, along with the fact that it’s a Stephen King story, prompted me to track it down immediately. You guys, the TENSION! It’s excruciating at times. But that tension, along with the performances from Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, make this such a remarkable viewing experience. For me the film’s coda somewhat undercuts the overall effect, but your mileage may vary. Here’s what I love about Flanagan’s films — they are character-driven (always featuring strong women), thoughtfully cast, and do not rely overmuch on special effects or jump scares. Oculus, in my opinion, drags out a little long, but Karen Gillan gives an inspired performance as a young woman trying to prove, through a carefully conceived paranormal investigation (Eee, one of my favorite things in a horror movie!), that a cursed mirror killed her parents. Ouija: Origin of Evil started out so brilliantly with a widowed mother and her daughters adding a Ouija board to their seance scams. I was in horror HEAVEN. Things fell apart at the end, sadly, but perhaps this was due to the constraints of it being a prequel? I have quibbles with all three of the films, but I still enthusiastically recommend them to horror buffs. (Something to consider–Ouija: Origin of Evil is PG-13, but the other two are definitely more adult.)

ETA: Gerald’s Game and Oculus are available on Netflix, but I could only watch Ouija-Origin of Evil through a trial subscription to Cinemax (available through Amazon Prime).

Okay, so maybe you’re not quite up to a horror film at this moment. Don’t worry, I’ll mention the above films again in early October when I offer my annual horror recommendations. For now you might prefer something “in between” — not too sappy, not too dark and creepy.

How about this?

After mainlining the series Shetland, with angsty cutie-pie DI Jimmy Perez (played by perennial favorite Douglas Henshall), I thoroughly expected Vera, also based on novels by Ann Cleeves, to be “meh” by comparison. Well, I’m in the sixth season now and I think I love it MORE than Shetland. It all comes down to the performance by Brenda Blethyn. Honestly, I feel nearly the same about her as I do about Helen Mirren–I simply long to meet her and bask in her glory. Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is very real to me, and I adore her, and I love to watch the team come together under her somewhat cranky and impatient direction. There is darkness in the show, to be sure, and occasional moments of heartbreak, but Vera fights on and always solves the case. Bonus: we are treated to lovely shots of the Northumbrian moors and coastline.

ETA: Vera is available to watch through Acorn TV.

How about you? What have been your favorite TV distractions of late?

Christmas glee, part II

In contrast to my craving for horror in October, I love a bit of holiday schmaltz at Christmas time. And Hallmark always delivers! Some of it is too sentimental and predictable even for my tastes, but this year I’ve encountered some very satisfying and poignant stories. Click the link to learn more AND to find out when this movie might repeat on the Hallmark channel so that you can watch!


A Christmas Wish (2011) — this one features Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a struggling divorcée (!!!) who, despite being a hard worker and loving mother, can’t seem to catch a break. Great cast in this one.


A Princess for Christmas (2011) — oh, this looked like it would be so cheesy, but I had to watch for Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser in Outlander). I was pleasantly surprised! Even Sir Roger Moore did a nice job. I actually preferred this foray into fairy-tale-romance-in-a-castle to the newer A Royal Christmas.


Angels Sing (2013) — the rare Hallmark movie without a budding romance at its center, this one really pulled at my heartstrings. Exceptional cast! (Was this even made for Hallmark? I can’t tell.)


Nine Lives of Christmas (2014) — Simply adorable! Charming and sympathetic romantic leads + CATS = Happy Sonia.


The Christmas Shepherd (2014) — This one had a slow start, but it’s one of the best Hallmark movies I’ve seen. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for the ones with animals. Highly recommended.

And for something a little different:
Fans of Martin Freeman and/or Christmas pageant stories really need to see Nativity! (2009). I purchased it from Amazon.co.uk last year but never got around to watching and sort of forgot I had it. Oh, what fun! It’s quite silly at times, and the actual pageant might seem a bit irreverant to some, but overall it has such a big heart and the finale (set among the ruins of the old Coventry cathedral!) is so satisfying. Check out the trailer, but keep in mind that it does tend to focus on the silliest bits:


For those not in the UK, this movie is available for download from Amazon ($2.99 to rent!) or on disc from Netflix. Not available on Hulu, sadly.

(I think I’ll skip Natvity 2: Danger in the Manger with David Tennant, and you couldn’t pay me to watch Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey? with Martin Clunes. *shudder*)

What about you? Any fun Christmas movie discoveries this year?