The Holiday Calendar (2018)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Holiday Calendar (2018) from Netflix
Rated TV-G. 
Drama, Christmas, Romance, African American Actors
My rating: ★★★1/2

Description (from Netflix): A talented photographer stuck in a dead-end job inherits an antique Advent calendar that may be predicting the future—and pointing her toward love.

My thoughts: Here we have a story that’s warm, lighthearted, and magical with no big surprises, and yet the path to the ending isn’t a straight shot.

Some biggish plot points are kind of rushed, though. And I’d personally go for a milder but natural story climax over cases like the one here, where in the effort to create necessary conflict for a turning point later, the conflict goes too overboard to really match the characters in question. You don’t have to take it that far, all of a sudden, to make a conflict work.

Nevertheless, this flick is plenty Christmassy without being too corny, with friendship, family, career dreams—and romance, of course. (Romance with a little more comfort than chemistry, but that’s okay. It’s still sweet.)

Oh, and the clips of characters in this Netflix movie watching Netflix movies? So obvious a thing to put in there. Too easy. But I got a kick out of it anyway.

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Downton Abbey (2019)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Downton Abbey (2019) from Focus Features, Carnival Film & Television
Rated PG. Drama, Historical/Period Film, Royalty, Romance

1/2

Description (from the film case of the television show, where so much happened): This is the epic tale of the Crawley family and their servants, set in the lavish surroundings of their ancestral home, Downton Abbey…bringing Downton Abbey from pre-war England through the storms of World War I and into the social upheaval of England in the 1920s as the lives of its inhabitants are shaped by romance and heartbreak, ambition and betrayal.

My thoughts on the film: It’s 1927, and the King and Queen of England are coming to Downton.

I don’t go to see movies in theaters much at all, but I went to see this the day after its US release. As The Silver Petticoat Review might say, I went to experience “movie magic.” In fact, I watched the entire television series (for the third or fourth time) in the weeks ahead of the film to prepare for it. And everything it needs to be, it is.

Yes, you do have to already love Downton to love this film as you should. You can still enjoy it without having all the background on the characters’ lives, but you’ll be at quite a disadvantage and will likely be able to tell as much on some level. It would be worth your while to go back and watch the television series afterward, if you’ve not seen it already!

The continuity from television to film is well done here, both where the plot and the characters are concerned, and it’s upbeat and satisfying overall without making every detail of every character’s life perfect. It was great hearing all the music again, too. Downton’s theme, the Mary/Matthew theme, the Tom/Sybil theme—and don’t get me started on the exquisite costumes.

Whenever I rewatch the series now, I’ll be sure to include this in the cycle.

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A tiny “sneak peek” featurette…

 

If You Believe (1999)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

If You Believe (1999) from Hearst Entertainment Productions
Rated TV-PG. Drama, Romance, Family Film, Christmas

Description: Jaded book editor Susan Stone (Ally Walker) has pretty much given up on finding happiness in life. But after receiving a hard bump on the head, Susan gets a strange visit from a cheerful and plucky girl named Suzie (Hayden Panettiere)…who looks an awful lot like Susan’s niece, Alice…and kind of like Susan herself. While she’s determined to be rid of her unwanted little guest, adult Susan may have to take a detour to rediscover her inner child first.

My thoughts: “Once upon a time we believed in love and magic. Then one day you stopped. That’s why you never found it…
“We need to fix that.”

There aren’t many made-for-TV flicks that end up on my all-time favorite films list. But this is one of them. Yes, the critical writing/editing/publishing industry aspect of the story is a huge hook for my literary self. And, yeah, this movie has much that wholesome holiday movies are made of, with the Christmas cheer and warmth and romance of it all.

But this isn’t just another hour and a half of predictable holiday fluff. I mean, yes, you can predict what will ultimately happen in a holiday film about a modern-day Scrooge lady. Still, this story hits some very real points along the way, uncomplicated but wise nuggets. The humor and heart doesn’t resort to outpourings of slapstick silliness or easy schmaltz. And when there are tears (not the comedic ones but the real ones), they’re unforced, unpretentious. You see the tears, and you get it.

Not to mention how the joint heroines leading this story play their acting duet well together, with a big sister/little sister “on the way to being BFFs” kind of chemistry. And as for the romance thread, where Susan and a possible Prince Charming are concerned—yup, there’s some fun, down-to-earth chemistry there, too.

When I first watched this movie years ago, I expected to be pleasantly entertained, and I was. I didn’t expect to find a truly great story, though. But I did. And I’ve been watching it every year since then.

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Confession: I’ve wanted to post this movie on my blog for years, but I couldn’t find a trailer for it. Now, well—this clip is the closest I could get. 😀

 

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) from Blueprint Pictures
Rated TV-14. Drama, Historical, Romance, War

My thoughts: “You have to write about them… This is your story to tell, as sure as I’m sitting here. And you will not be right until you do.”

Every writer needs to be inspired. In the aftermath of World War II, Juliet, a writer in London, follows the tug of inspiration to visit a hodgepodge of book club members on the island of Guernsey.

And here we have a lovely and compelling story about the blessing of books in the midst of horror, and finding people with whom one belongs. Though it didn’t captivate me at every moment, this is one of those rare instances when I like a film better than the novel it’s based on.

Granted, for me, a story told entirely through characters’ written correspondence does not work in a novel’s favor. While it has its creative points, that type of (rather choppy) storytelling tends to make me feel removed from a story, as if I’m reading bits “about” what’s happening and never get to step into the story itself and experience it right along with the characters.

The screen brings these people to life in a different way, making them more accessible. I couldn’t be so indifferent to Juliet here as I was when I read about her. This story truly benefits from giving its audience a chance to look into The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society members’ eyes, and having the music there to enhance certain images is a notable advantage.

I enjoyed seeing the vitality of book discussions, the illustration of what literature, and the sharing of literature, does for us. Plus, being a writer myself, I’m partial to books and movies about writers. I’ll admit I cried while watching Juliet truly go to work toward the end (well, maybe I cried through most of the last fifth of the film or so), and the opening of the closing credits is just brilliant.

I also got a kick out of seeing the nice handful of actors from Downton Abbey, but that’s beside the point.

My corresponding reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

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