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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008) Movie Review

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns, Warren Christie, Connor Christopher Levins, Woody Jeffreys
Director: Michael Scott
Release Date: 13 December 2008
Language: English
Length: 88 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Retired policeman, Ralph (Henry Winkler), is on his way to his niece’s house for Christmas when he makes friends with a stranger, Morgan (Warren Christie), at the airport.  Morgan has no place to go for Christmas and is ready to sleep on the airport floor while he waits for a flight to Colorado and his new job, but Ralph has other ideas.  He persuades his niece, Jennifer (Brooke Burns), to let Morgan stay with them for a few days.  Jennifer isn’t happy about it, but she desperately needs help cooking her first Christmas turkey and Morgan is a chef so she lets Ralph talk her into it.  Morgan isn’t in Jennifer’s home for long before he realizes that she doesn’t seem to have much of a Christmas spirit.  Morgan, Ralph and Brian (Connor Christopher Levins), Jennifer’s son, band together to make this Christmas one that Jennifer will never forget.

Review:

I always enjoy watching the Hallmark Christmas movies during the holidays, but Henry Winklermost of them are just average.  The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is one of the better ones.  I tuned in to watch it because Henry Winkler is the movie.  It was so fun to see him in a movie again!  Henry Winkler  plays Uncle Ralph and is a real character.  He is a retired policeman, so he is tough, but he definitely has a soft, squishy center.  Honestly, Ralph’s character seemed to be a grown-up Fonz from Happy Days, which is probably why I liked him so much!  I also appreciated that Henry Winkler was not afraid to act silly and have fun with his role.  No sense in resting on your dignity at an old age, I say!

The main plot deals with the romance developing between Morgan (Warren Christie) and Jennifer (Brooke Burns), who are polar opposites.  Morgan is a free spirit who has worked all over the world and has no permanent address.  He loves the Christmas season and quizzes Jennifer down on why she doesn’t enjoy Jennifer and Morganthe holiday as much.  Jennifer is a hardworking single mom who doesn’t have time for Christmas.  She sees no point in opening Christmas cards when the person’s name is on the outside of the envelope, has been sending Christmas cards to people she can’t remember for years and has the only undecorated house on the block.  Jennifer is seriously involved with a jeweler, Richard (Woody Jeffreys), but, of course, we all know that Jennifer and Morgan will end up together somehow.  Before the movie starts, you know how it will begin and it doesn’t take long before you know how it will end, but that doesn’t mean you know what happens in between.  It was a lot of fun to see these two characters interact and argue.  Jennifer creatively manages to locate the hot Hanging the LightsChristmas toy for the season for her son, Brian, but it is Morgan’s quick-thinking that enables them to actually get the toy in time for Christmas.  My particular favorite was the Christmas decorating.  Jennifer’s next-door neighbor is extremely upset that Jennifer’s house is the only one that is not decorated on the block.  Morgan gets drafted to hang the lights and very carefully inserts a single red bulb into the strand of white lights to drive the woman crazy – love it!

Morgan makes several good points about the holidays in this movie and it reminded me of how much I love the Christmas season.  I look forward to December for weeks and then, when Christmastime is upon me, it is so stressful that I can’t wait for it to be over.  This is such a horrible attitude to have and the Most Wonderful Time of the Yearwriters of this movie totally called me on it!  Watching this movie reminded me of all of the crazy things that I do not enjoy about the holiday like the pressure to decorate because your neighbors are, the huge feast that we force ourselves to make for guests we don’t even like, the eternal debate between real and fake Christmas trees, sending countless Christmas cards to people who don’t remember you and don’t care, and spending countless hours shopping for the perfect gift.  What I loved about the movie was Morgan and Ralph’s handling of the stress and pressure of the holidays.  Yes you can look at it as a huge list of things to do, but there are so many wonderful things that happen around Christmastime that it is totally worth it and this movie reminded me of that.  There are ways to have fun while performing all of these chores and Brian’s character, played by an adorable Connor Christopher Levins, helped me remember why it is all worth it.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is one of the better made-for-TV movies made in recent years and I am confident that your family will enjoy watching it Most Wonderful Time of the Year 2together.  There are plenty of little laughs and funny sequences for the younger children to get a giggle in, a handsome hero and beautiful girl who fall in love for the teens and a little bit of everything for the adults.  The DVD is very inexpensive for this movie, but I recommend catching it on TV around Christmastime so that it is something special to look forward to.  If you need a bit of a boost to feel the Christmas spirit and are looking for something new and different, this movie will be sure to fit the bill.

Content:

This movie contains a scene with partial nudity, but the actress is completely wrapped up in a towel so nothing is really shown.  There are some verbal arguments and disagreements, but nothing violent.  There is some drinking of alcohol and very mild swearing.  Recommended for viewers ages 5 and up.

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Filed under Christmas, Romance Movies, Romantic Comedy Movies

Beyond the Blackboard (2011) Movie Review

Beyond the Blackboard (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Emily VanCamp, Steve Talley, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Treat Williams, Nicki Aycox
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 24 April 2011
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Stacey Bess (Emily VanCamp) is thrilled to get her first teaching job.  She just graduated from college and has no experience, but has wanted to be a teacher her whole life.  But when Stacey arrives at the School with No Name, she is horrified to discover the conditions she is expected to teach in.  There are no desks, no books, the lights are dim and every train that passes by shakes the whole classroom!  Parents are constantly interrupting, the kids all have a different amounts of learning, rats come up out of the floorboards and there is no money to buy the supplies the children desperately need.  Can Stacey find the heart and the means to give these children a chance in life?

Review:

I grew up watching the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations with my mother.  I can remember that they were a special event in our household and my family would gather around the TV set on Sunday evenings to watch them together.  The only thing that has changed for me is that I never know when these movies are going to be on – or what channel they will broadcast on – and that I can use my DVR to record them and watch them any night of the week.  Other than that, they are still the same, high-quality movies that I remember from my childhood.  They are always heartwarming, clean, and have inspirational stories.  Beyond the Blackboard is no different.

I am a sucker for movies that are based on true stories.  I guess I enjoy them the most because I can see a single individual who makes a difference in other people’s lives or in their own lives.  They give me hope and they inspire me to try harder to be a better person.  Beyond Stacey Bess in Real Lifethe Blackboard is based on the true life story of Stacey Bess, whom viewers are introduced to at the end of this film.  Stacey taught at this homeless school, and others, for 8 years before she left her teaching job to become an advocate for education for underprivileged children.  She did this while raising her own children and being a supportive wife.  Stacey got her first job at the School with No Name when she was 24-years-old.  Eight years later she was 32-years-old and was making a powerful impact in school districts around the country.  I am older than Stacey was when she accomplished all of this and do not have any legacy to live behind me.  That does not mean that I have not touched any lives, but no one will ever be making a movie (made for TV or not!) about my life when it is done.  What I am trying to say is that all of us have the potential to change the world around us for the better.  We may be scared, unequipped or ill prepared, but that does not mean we should back away from the challenge.

Emily VanCamp shines as Stacey Bess.  I loved that the filmmaker gave her a few moments at the end of the movie to introduce the real Stacey Bess and to talk about how she took this role because she found the story so personally touching.  I feel that Emily VanCamp really captured Stacey’s message and her life.  At first, I felt that Stacey was not strong enough to become a teacher who mattered.  She came from a home where her parents argued constantly and took refuge in books at a young age.  Stacey left school to marry at the young age of 16, but she never gave up her dream of becoming a teacher.  She got her GED and then her college degree, only to end up in a classroom to teach grades 1 – 6 with children who were bright and others who had little to no education.  Their parents were homeless, some with skills, other who can’t even read.  Emily VanCamp was like a shining star Emily VanCamp at Blackboardin this setting.  She was clean, pretty and has a kind of naive innocence about her that she never lost, even though she saw some of the worst of what people were capable of.  As the movie progresses, I saw Stacey as a character become stronger, more powerful and a driving force in countless lives.  You will find yourself caught up in the lives of her young students.  These young actors were memorable, individual and well cast. Liam McKanna as Danny and Paola Nicole Andino as Maria stand out the most as they are given bigger roles in this movie, but there are some little children who are just heartbreakers.  They had such cute little faces with countless opportunities ahead of them if they could only be given the chance!

It was heartbreaking to realize that most of these students had no real chance at a future because of the situation their parents were in.  All of the children in the classroom were shown as bright, loveable and aching for a chance.  They responded to Stacey because she gave them hope, trust and showed them that she was determined to become part of their lives.  Stacey takes one of her weekends to redo the classroom, at no pay and with supplies she Teaching the Childrenpurchased herself, and then invites the students to set rules with her.  The children open up to Stacey about their personal lives as they share stories of abuse (verbal and physical), low self-esteems and a sense of powerlessness.  A great teacher can change the way that children see themselves and the world around them.  It is too bad that great teachers are not rewarded in this life the way that they should be.  I loved the little extra touches Stacey made to reach out and give her students a chance.  She gets up extra early so she can go down the street, ringing a bell and trying to get her students to wake up and make it to school on time.  Stacey holds meetings with the parents and treats with them respect and encourages them to donate time to the school.  I appreciate that the movie took the time to show that the homeless adults were not all druggie deadbeats, but that some of them had great skills and talents.  They just had no job and no where to go.  If you look closely at your life, you will realize that you are not very far away from being out on the street yourself.  Without a safety net of close family and friends to help you out when times are hard, you could easily end up living in a car, too.  If you have children, it is even more difficult because it is more expensive.  Thank goodness for teachers who make a difference like Stacey Bess who give these children a chance while they are at the shelter!

I found this movie to be inspirational and uplifting.  There are so few films out there that will really leave you with a warm, good feeling inside that it is nice to run across them every now and again.  This is a wonderful movie to share with your whole family and hopefully it will launch a discussion about what it is like to be homeless and if there is anything we can do to help.  Shortly before I watched this film, I had a grungy-looking man approach me in a parking lot and I automatically said that I didn’t have any cash, even though I actually had a few ones in a wallet.  He looked and me and said “I was going to offer to wash your windows” and walked away.  I not only denied him a few dollars that would mean much more to him than they would to me, but I robbed him of a little bit more of his dignity.  I do not know if he was on the streets because of choices he had made in his life or of circumstances beyond his control, but I feel like I made the wrong choice.  I had the power to change one person’s life for a little while and I did not take advantage of it.  This movie inspired me to try harder and to see if I could make a difference in someone else’s life.  Hopefully it will do the same for you.

Content:

This movie has scenes that discuss drug abuse and alcoholism.  There are scenes of poverty, shouting, verbal arguments, living on the streets and bullying.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Filed under Based on a Real Story Movies, Biopic Movies, Children & Family Movies, Drama Movies

Edge of the Garden (2011) Movie Review

Edge of the Garden (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Rob Estes, Sarah Manninen, David Lewis, David Richmond-Peck, Reg Tupper
Director: Michael Scott
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 14 May 2011
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Brian (Rob Estes) moves to Maine to manage a new company acquisition and to get away from his failed engagement.  A workaholic, Brian missed his engagement party while working on a company project, leading his fiancée to call the whole thing off.  Now, he is on a different coast with a different group of people and can start over.  He begins by purchasing a lovely cottage with some grounds, which is not at all his usual style.  Then he encounters a mysterious woman in his garden, a woman who claims that Brian is the intruder and that this is her home!  Brian soon realizes that he is seeing the ghost of Nora Hargrave (Sarah Manninen), who lived in his home in the 1960s.  The two become close and find a way to communicate across the ages so Brian is horrified when he discovers that Nora was killed in a house fire.  Can Brian save Nora or will history continue uninterrupted?

Review:

I am not sure what I was expecting when watched this movie, but a time-travel romance a la Somewhere in Time was not it.  Firstly, I don’t think that any time-travel romance has succeeded quite the way that Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour did in Somewhere in Time.  I actually cannot stand to watch that film very often as I always cry when I see it.  It is a timeless loop that the two characters cannot seem to escape.  This movie is very similar to that one, but it differs dramatically in some respects.  Firstly, neither Brian nor Nora remember each other when they meet in the backyard for the first time.  Instead, there is more of an overlap in time centered around the cottage where both Brian and Nora are living and hearing each other at the same time.  Brian has flowers in his home because Nora cuts fresh flowers every morning.  They can leave notes for each other in the house and find them in their own times, leading Brian to help Nora multiple times in the past.  Another difference is that Nora is unhappily married and is struggling with her husband, Thomas (David Lewis), a controlling, abusive lawyer.  It also takes place in a much more updated time with Brian living in the 2010s and Nora living in the 1960s.  Nora does not wear extreme fashions or hairstyles of the time and so she has a timeless, classic look that would translate to many places today.  I kind of missed the more dramatic, historical feel that other time-travel romances have, but this one was sweet and well presented so I got used to it.

I was a bit disappointed with the “romance” in this movie.  Brian (Rob Estes) and Nora (Sarah Manninen) are supposedly falling in love, but I never really got that vibe from them.  Brian edge of the gardenseemed like a fresh, modern man and Nora was so dated in her views and opinions.  I did like that was trying to stay true to her marriage vows and not leave her husband, but I felt like there was so much more love between Nora and her handyman, Frank (David Richmond-Peck), who lived in the same time that I thought the romance was between those two until the end of the movie!  So, I wouldn’t say that this is a great romance, more like a great friendship.  I was relieved to see that they handled this plot thread in an acceptable, rather predictable way at the end of the movie.  There is a magic locket that threads through the story.  Legend says that you will meet and marry your true love while you wear it and it is has worked for generations of women in Nora’s family.  I would venture to say that it did not quite work in Nora’s case, but I guess she did marry a handsome, wealthy man so maybe that was all she was really looking for?  I am not sure, but the locket was a nice touch that brought Brian and Nora together in the first place.

The acting is fine in this made-for-TV movie.  I did not feel like any performances were a true standout, but everyone performed admirably.  Most of the characters seemed relatively flat and one-note, but I am not sure if that is due to the way they were written or to the performances.  Rob Estes plays Brian, a workaholic who suddenly changes and slows his life Rob Estes (“Melrose Place”) is Brian Connor, a lonely businessman who temporarily relocates to Maine after a bad breakup.  He moves into a rundown cottage, where he encounters the beautiful Nora (Sarah Manninen, “The Line”), who is actually a spirit of a woman who lived in the house fifty years prior.  As they form a friendship, they begin to help each other in ways they never knew possible, and change both their futures forever.  Kelly Monaco (“General Hospital”) also stars in EDGE OF THE GARDEN, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere, Saturday, May 14 @ 9 p.m. ET/PT, 8C.down when he meets Nora’s ghost in his yard.  Sarah Manninen plays Nora as a traditional 1960s housewife who cannot see any other avenue in life for herself other than keeping the house clean, the garden looking lovely and waiting on her husband.  David Lewis as Thomas Hargrave is the villain of the movie and he is a jealous, violent man without any attraction or softness about him.  David Richmond-Peck plays Frank, the loyal handyman who has a crush on Nora and is a soft teddy bear who brings Nora soup when she is sick and takes her to the doctor.  If they had given these characters some more depth and dimension, I feel that they would have been more interesting and dynamic if the characters were given more dimension.  This is a relatively small cast we are working with here and it would have been nice to connect with them and feel more while watching this movie.

There were some beautiful scenes in this movie and I felt that the cinematography was well done and Nora’s garden looked gorgeous.  I would have loved to see more flowers and to get some really vivid, almost fantastical colors as most of the scenes in Nora’s garden took place when Brian was seeing her ghost in his time.  This would have added a slightly more unearthly, paranormal element to this film to keep it fresh and unique.  The pacing is nice and steady and there are a few exciting moments, but, for the most part, this is a nice movie selection to watch with a mother or a grandmother.  The movie looks new enough that younger viewers will not mind it and Rob Estes is not hard on the eyes either!  The ending of the movie is a little cheesy and a lot predictable, but was emotionally rewarding at the same time so don’t worry about having a tearjerker ending here!

As with all of Hallmark’s presentations, this is a touching, heartfelt movie that will be enjoyed by multiple generations of women.  I think that they missed the mark a bit on this particular film as I usually enjoy these made-for-TV movies more, but it was still an enjoyable few hours.  It is not yet available on DVD so you will have to check and see when it is going to be on TV again.  Worth watching on a quiet night in with that special someone in your life.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of physical and verbal abuse between spouses.  The scenes are fairly subtle and mainly consist of arm-grabbing, shaking and belittling comments, but they are present.  There is kind of a love quadrangle in the movie and the woman in the quadrangle is married so that may be a bit distasteful for some.  There are scenes of drinking and attempted murder involving a rifle.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Filed under Drama Movies, Fantasy Movies, Mystery Movies, Romance Movies