Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A woman returns to her home town in the run-up to Christmas and causes uproar when she tells all the proprietors of the shops in the town square, that they must all leave by Christmas Eve, as she has sold the land to a developer. A couple of angels, one that is still in training, hope to help her see the error of her ways. 

Is it any good?: How much you enjoy this film will depend a lot on whether you like musicals or not. The story is a mix of inspirations from two other classic stories – A Christmas Carol mostly, with a pinch of It’s A Wonderful Life. That being said, Christmas On The Square is a nice festive film that tugs on the heartstrings a little and is just a pleasant film to watch over the festive period. 

Spoiler territory: in the town square, all of the town’s people are looking forward to Christmas and various activities are going on. A choir is preparing to carol sing, shoppers are looking for gifts and families enjoy the festive decorations. A woman appears in the square. She holds a cardboard box, begging for change. 

Driven by her assistant, Felicity (Jeanine Mason), Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski) arrives in the square. She has business to attend to and does not want to be in town for long. She is bringing eviction notices for the many proprietors in the square. She goes and sees the town’s pastor, Christian Hathaway (Josh Segarra), first. 

Christian greets her, remarking how he has not seen her since her father’s funeral six months earlier. Christian’s wife, Jenna (Mary Lane Haskell), notes how everybody misses her father.

Regina gets down to business. She is there to inform them that the town, her land, is being sold to the Cheetah Mall conglomerate. It is to become the biggest mall in America. 

The pastor cannot believe that she is giving out the eviction notices less than a week before Christmas. Regina goes to see her oldest friend in town next, hairdresser Margeline (Jenifer Lewis). She gives her an eviction notice. 

Margeline asks her what is going on. Regina tells her, that as she inherited the land that the town stands on, Fullerville, the town, has to go because she has sold the land. 

Christian calls a town meeting. He plans to fight Regina’s eviction notices. Regina gets a call from her doctor but ignores it. Margeline comes to her house to do her hair. 

Regina mentions that she has one more eviction notice to deliver and then she will leave town. It is for Carl (Treat Williams), her childhood sweetheart, whose heart she broke. 

Margeline tries to talk to her friend about the eviction notices but Regina refuses to be moved by sentiment. A frustrated Margeline leaves Regina. 

She sees another message on her phone from doctor Marshall (Donald Corren). Call him. Regina goes into town, she is confronted by pastor Christian. He tells her the whole town is going to stand against her. 

Regina remains unmoved. She goes and sees Carl. She tells him to sign the eviction papers. He asks her why did she did not return his calls or any of his letters. He is still hurt even after all these years.

Regina tells him that people change. She notices a street lamp. She asks if it was a father’s, Carl tells it was. He picked up all lot of his old stuff after his death. 

He tells her it gave him an excuse to visit her old home and hear how she was doing. She was doing very well, a big deal in business. Regina brings the conversation back to the eviction notice. He tells her he is not going to sign. Regina leaves the store. 

She returns to her car and the beggar from the square appears. Regina gives her short shrift and drives off. A pamphlet flies into her face and she brakes as she is about to hit doctor Marshall. He tells her they need to talk, he found a shadow on her brain scan. 

Regina returns home and Felicity tells her the contract from Cheetah has arrived. After dismissing Felicity, Regina takes the contract to her bedroom. She goes to switch a lamp on and it does not work. 

None of the lights work. She calls Felicity. The beggar from the square appears and tells her that Felicity has left for the night. 

The beggar tells her she is an angel and her name is Angel (Dolly Parton). Angel reminds Regina of how her father used to look out of the window and watch lamps light up the square. She also tells her that he had hoped that she would find happiness. Angel disappears. 

In the church, the town is meeting and venting about Regina. They are trying to come up with ideas to stop her plan. No one has anything sensible or useful to contribute. 

Regina turns up at the meeting. She tells the assembled that she has been supporting the town ever since her father fell ill some years before. 

She says that she sold businesses and unused spaces. The townspeople point out that the spaces she speaks of were parks. She reiterates that she will be selling the land. 

She tells them that the new deadline for them to vacate is Christmas Eve. An incredulous Christian notes that that is the next day. Regina leaves the meeting. 

She goes into a bar across the road. She meets Violet (Selah Kimbro Jones), a young girl who is running the establishment whilst her father is at the meeting. Violet tells Regina that her mother died when she was younger. Regina’s mother also died when she was young.

Not knowing that she is talking about her, Violet tells Regina that her father hates the ‘wicked witch of the middle’ because he holds her responsible for her mother’s death.

She tells Regina that when she was very small, she got a fever and her mother had to drive twenty miles to get medicine. She died in a storm on the return drive. 

Violet does not blame the wicked witch of the middle. She thinks it is her own fault for getting sick. Regina tells her that is wrong. Before she can say anything else, Violet’s father, Mack (Matthew Johnson), returns.

A shaken Regina leaves the bar. Back at home, Regina remembers her father, Jack (Douglas Sills), polishing the lamp and telling her as a young girl, that she will be the one looking after the town one day. 

The next morning, Felicity is surprised by Angel. She wants to know why she has not woken Regina up for her doctor’s appointment. Angel-in-training Felicity is reluctant to engage with Regina. 

Angel tells Felicity to go and wake her. Felicity wakes Regina up and receives sarcasm and obtuseness for her troubles. 

Sent to get coffee, Felicity tells Angel she wants to quit. Regina is too mean and rude. Angel will not let her, insisting that she finds the good qualities in Regina. Regina shouts for her coffee. 

Felicity meets her with a cup of coffee and Regina gives her a grudging apology for being so brusque. On the drive to the doctor’s, Felicity remarks that being back brought must bring back memories.

Regina remembers going to her (teenage Regina – Hailey Rose Walsh) first and only high school dance, eager to meet up with Carl (teenage Carl – Andrew Brodeur). She saw him giving a ring to another girl and was so hurt she went off with another boy (Aidan Dacy Carberry). She went home with him and he got her pregnant. 

When her father found out, he sent her away and took the baby away, giving it up for adoption. Angel shows her that he only took the baby to save her from the judgement of the townspeople and that Carl had meant to give the ring to her. 

As Regina is leaving the hospital, an ambulance is coming and she sees a fraught Mack. Violet has been a car accident. Regina tells Felicity to find the top paediatric doctor in the country and get them to that hospital. 

Regina prays to god to save Violet. In the hospital with his daughter, Mack is also praying. A paediatric doctor, Martinez (Yvonne Valadez) comes into the room. She has flown from one hundred miles away to help his daughter. 

Regina tells Felicity to drop her at Carl’s store. Angel tells Felicity that it is not a good idea and that Regina is not ready. Felicity disagrees and takes her to the store. 

Regina goes into the store and tries to talk with Carl but he is not very receptive, stopping her before she can finish speaking. She asks him how much he wants for the lantern. He gives it to her as a gift. 

Regina returns home. An excited Felicity asks how it went with Carl. Regina expression and demeanour tell her it did not go well. Around the square, the store owners are packing up, preparing to vacate their premises. A little magic from Angel wakes Violet from unconsciousness. 

Whilst fiddling with the lamp, Regina finds an old bible hidden in the base of the lamp. She reads a note her father had written in the book that tells what happened to her son.

Christian tells his wife that Mack called to tell him that Violet has woken up. Regina runs into doctor Marshall again. He tells her that her test results are fine and the first test was an aberration. 

Regina goes to see Christian. She shows him the lamp and tells him that it contains the family bible; their family bible. She shows him the note her father, his grandfather, wrote. 

Christian goes to the church to deliver the Christmas sermon. He tells the town that Violet woke up. He tells them that he always felt as if Jack Fuller was watching over him. 

He tells Regina story of having to leave the town and give up her baby for adoption. He was that baby and Regina is his mother. Regina comes to the front of the church and tells them that she is not selling the town. 

The town throws a Christmas party. Carl comes and dances with Regina. The angels, Angel and Felicity, tell everyone to light their light. The end. 

Final thoughts: Dolly Parton’s Christmas On The Square is a nice festive film. The songs are good without being particularly memorable and the dance sequences are energetic and joyful.

From a stage play by Dolly Parton and Maria S Schlatter and directed by Debbie Allen, the production shows its stage roots mostly in the songs.

Allen’s direction shows all of her experience, with her having almost as many credits for directing as she does for acting, with fluid camerawork and direction helping to make the dance sequences look a little less stagey. 

Christmas On The Square is not a festive classic but it does manage to tick many of the Christmas story boxes, imparting the message of goodwill to all and happiness through love and selfless deeds.

Baranski is perfectly cast as the cold and aloof Regina and works well as the central focus, pulling the film along. 

As I alluded to at the beginning, there is a nod to the classic It’s A Wonderful Life, with the effervescent Mason taking up the Clarence role, something that is cleverly referenced in the script. 

Christmas On The Square is a simple story and throws up no surprises. Parton’s homely approach is evident throughout and it is just a fun ninety-eight-minute watch.

The App That Stole Christmas – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A successful app developer creates an app that eases the burden of shopping over Christmas. Unfortunately, his busy lifestyle sees him neglecting everything in his life because of the business. When he has an accident and falls unconscious, he wakes up in Santa’s warehouse and is tasked with making one hundred toys. 

Is it any good?: The App That Stole Christmas is fucking awful. The story is A Christmas Carol meets Wizard Of Oz-esque story, without the meanest of the central character or the sweetness. The story is not the problem. The telling of the story is. 

The acting is uniformly poor, the script is rubbish, the directing is crappy. It manages to at least be in focus and the music is okay but for a film that is only sixty-four minutes long, The App That Stole Christmas is a real chore of a watch. 

I had to watch the film in three parts, that is how much of an abomination I found this film. Even my computer stuttered at the awfulness of this film.

Spoiler territory: company CEO, Felix Rhome (Jackie Long), is on a business call whilst his PA, Merry – haha, very droll. No. (Mellissa Macedo), follows him with a clipboard and a document she needs him to sign because he is an important guy and needs to sign off on stuff. He goes to his office, no idea why he was walking around the conference room. Better acoustics maybe? 

Elsewhere, his wife, Ellen (Diane Howard), is receiving reflected praise for her husband’s app. His Bomazon company – I see what you did there. Jeff, please sue them! – have created an app that is brilliant for Christmas shopping. Yes, really. 

Ellen, who is in a socially distanced hairdressers, is chatting with effeminate (yawn) hairstylist, Jaiden (J. R. Taylor) and two other stylists, Samantha (Genevieve Helm) _ who is white so they really pushed the boat on names in this script – and Carly (Elise Neal).

A third stylist is cleaning up, Jessie (Amber Cornish). The two stylist leave after a brief conversation about who the best stylist is. Don’t care. 

Ellen leaves almost immediately afterwards, giving the keys to Jessie to lock up. So that scene was pointless. Back at Bomazon headquarters, Felix is giving Merry – haha, that never gets old. 

Except it does – orders about some such over the phone’s intercom. As soon as he has finished that conversation, literally the next second, Merry – haha…argh! – is in the office telling Felix there is someone to see him. It is JayQ (Jayq – that’s what it says on IMDB, maybe he is a rapper as well), about the app. 

JayQ comes into the office. JayQ tells him that his app is stealing quality time. They have been watching him and his company. None of this psychobabble seems to alarm Felix at all. 

He just defends his app as though this were a normal conversation. People love his app. JayQ tells him that that night, life as he knows it will change forever. 

Felix is still not at all alarmed by this. Nada. Nothing. This does not strike him as a usual remark. Anyhoo, Merry – ha. That’s all. – comes into the office to tell him he is needed. Felix gets up to leave and tells her to get rid of JayQ, not in a mafiosa way, unfortunately. 

The security guard (Torae Carr) is getting told off by Ms Booker. Felix walks past and they exchange a few words. Felix goes home and gets into a disagreement with his wife because….it serves some purpose? 

He wants to know where his son, Ben (Jalyn Hall) is. He is playing a video game. Felix goes to talk to his boy. 

The sullen little fuck, is playing games with his friends online – no cliché there then – his grandfather, Gramps (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), thinks he should be outside. Gramps and Felix getting into an argument about that. So there is that. 

Dinner gets delivered. Around the dinner table – everybody comes to the dinner table – Gramps complains about everybody’s obsession with apps.

Felix tries to restrict Ben’s access to his phone at dinner. Later, whilst in bed, Ellen and Felix argue about his constant busyness. Ben picks up his phone to play and Santa Claus is on the screen. Ben is shocked. Hmm. 

The next day in the salon, everyone is still raving about the Christmas app. What world is this?! As inane conversations continue, we see that the app is addictive. People keep shopping on it! Wow! 

In a board meeting at Bomazon – stop him Jeff! Stop him! – everybody is happy with the profits from the app and predict bigger profits the following year. Yippee. 

Felix walks past the security guard again and the guard bemoans his struggle to get gifts for Christmas. Felix, the magnanimous and generous boss that he is, tells him to get the app. Thanks, Felix! 

You can get anything you want on the app. What a great idea. Felix tries to get the details of the visitor he had earlier, JayQ, from security. There is no record of JayQ. 

Merry – fuck off – comes in and talks about another problem. They need another factory for some bollocks or stuff. Who knows, nothing is clear. Felix rings his wife. It is supposed to be date night but Felix is working. He has a business to run. Maybe he should employ a few managers….

Ellen goes to her no customers salon and waits all day. She bemoans Felix’s lateness as darkness falls. Felix manages to get a new factory. He sees that he is late for his date with Ellen and rushes out of the office. He crashes into the security guard and is knocked unconscious. 

Felix wakes up in Santa’s workshop. He sees JayQ and Ray (Ray J – names are not a creative consideration). Ray recounts his day to him, to see if he remembers anything. Felix does. 

It is late, Ben asks his mother if his dad is back yet. She tells him he is stuck at work. Back at the workshop, Felix is being told by JayQ that they know everything about him and he has been missing quality time with his wife and family. 

Ray reminds him how he used to make toys with his father but now he has created an app that steals time and makes people buy more stuff. Felix argues that his app has improved lives and made Christmas easier. He wants to see his son. Not worried about his wife then? 

Ellen calls the police, unable to get in contact with her husband. They tell her it has been less than forty-eight hours, so they cannot do anything. 

Back in Santa’s house, Santa (J Anthony Brown) tells Felix that he has to work making toys. Ellen is at the hospital. Felix is in a coma having been knocked unconscious at work. The doctor tells Ellen and Gramps he is dreaming. He can tell by the eye movement. Wow, wow, wow. 

Santa is telling Felix they need him to make toys. He hands him over to JayQ even as he protests. Ellen takes Ben home. 

He not hungry when she offers to make lunch. She offers him a cookie and he succumbs. Forgets his father for a cookie, bleedin’ kids. 

Felix is having a tantrum at Santa’s house. Santa tells him they just want him to make toys. Ray takes Felix to the workshop. Gramps waits by his son’s bed in the hospital. At home, an excited Ben runs to his mother, saying he heard his father’s voice in Santa’s workshop. 

Back at the workshop, Santa tells Felix he needs to make one hundred toys. Felix tells them he needs to call his family. They give him a phone but it does not work. 

JayQ gives him a useless pep talk. In the hospital, the doctor (Kenny Rhodes), who is, frankly, an embarrassment to the profession, tells Ellen of the multiple things that could be afflicting Felix but he has no idea which it is. They just have to wait. 

Felix tries to escape from Santa’s world and keeps running into invisible walls. He asks Ray how can he get out. Ray tells him that he will get out when it is time. Okay, very helpful. 

Felix enlists the help of Ray to make up his quota of toys in the hope of getting out of Santa’s world. 

Ben talks to Santa. Ben tells Santa he wants his dad back. They talk about other stuff but as I’m suffering this film for the second time I cannot be bothered to recount it. 

A morose Ben is consoled by his mother, reminding him of the time he got a telescope in time for a meteor shower. Sometimes things happen. Okay…then. 

Back at Santa’s house, Felix is woken up by Toc (Anthony McKinley). Felix tells him why he stopped making toys and how making the app made him successful. Toc tells him that he needs to spend more time with his family. I see a theme here….

Ben sees Santa again. Ellen walks past his bedroom and sees Santa on his phone. She watches the Santa’s house Livestream with him and sees Felix on the phone. 

Ellen tells Ben to get his clothes on. They head to the hospital. Back at Santa’s house, Santa tells him it is time to return home. After an unnecessary speech and heart to heart, Santa shakes Felix’s hand. He wakes up in the hospital. 

Felix wakes up and is contrite about his fast lifestyle – he works a lot, we get it – and tell everyone he is going to be different now. Felix leaves the hospital. Immediately. Beds are not cheap even if one is a millionaire. 

At home and it is Christmas Eve. Felix and the family have everyone come around for a party. Felix kisses Ellen. The end. Thank fuck. 

Final thoughts: The App That Stole Christmas is easily the worse Christmas film you will ever watch. It is so bad that they even get one of the actors name in the credits wrong! 

There is nothing at all to recommend this film. Even the fact that it is short does not save it. The acting is bad, the script is bad, the framing is bad, the….you get my drift. 

It is not as though a Christmas film has to be a masterpiece, all one expects is a bit of festive cheer; a middling rom-com with a couple of attractive people; a lonely child who gets loved in the end; a lonely person, man or woman, who is saved and has their faith renewed by Christmas, it’s not hard! 

Four people were involved with the writing of this crap – four! Jennifer Rapaport and Monica Floyd wrote the story – ha! – and Peter John and Miriam Bavly, the screenplay. Floyd is on directing duties. 

I can only assume this was the first draft or that they had a deadline by which to spend the production money because there is no way anybody, any single person, reads this screenplay and thinks it is ready to go. 

The app angle is so overused that when it is employed it needs to be done well. That is not the case here and the premise is bullshit. An app that has everyone shopping at Christmas? Really? Nothing like that exists and if it did, would anyone use it? The words “close the door” and “horse bolted”, come to mind. 

The App That Stole Christmas is a disgrace of a film and even a student filmmaker would be embarrassed to have made it. I can only think the production company behind it are laundering money but that may be because I watch too many telenovelas. That being said, unless you want to ruin your Christmas, I suggest you avoid this film. Awful. 

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish

With a story that has its roots back as far as 7BC, the trials and tribulations of Cinderella have influenced and been the inspiration for many stories, plays, pantomimes, and in the past century, films. The tale of a downtrodden and oppressed orphan girl escaping the evil clutches of her step-family and finding love and a better life appeals to the romantic in all of us.

Cinderella’s story is not a festive one but there is no good reason why it cannot be set around the holidays. At least that seemed to be the thinking of the makers of Netflix’s A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish. Spoilers – if you really don’t know the story of Cinderella that is – ahead.

When Kat Emerson’s (Laura Marano) father dies, she is forced to live with her stepmother, Deirdre Decker (Johannah Newmarch) and her two daughters, Grace (Chanelle Peloso) and Joy (Lillian Doucet-Roche). The Decker clan, who live off of Kat’s inheritance which is under the control of Deidre until Kat’s eighteenth birthday, treat Kat like a lackey, having her do all the cleaning and also forcing her to work to earn any money.

Kat dreams of becoming a singer and songwriter but Deidre constantly suppresses her, telling her that she will never be good enough to make it. Whilst out with her step-family, Kat gets humiliated when she bumps into the towns most eligible bachelor, Dominic Wintergarden (Gregg Sulkin), falls over and gets covered in a milkshake. Joy films the entire scene and posts it to social media.

Later, Kat goes to work at a Christmas fair where she is a singing elf. There is a new Father Christmas and she immediately hits it off with him. It is Dominic, though neither initially realise they have met before, even as Dominic notes some familiarity in Kat’s face.

Dominic’s father, Terence (Barclay Hope), has an annual Christmas party that is invitation only. When Deirdre finds out that Kat’s father was a close friend of billionaire Terence, she hatches a plan to get herself invited to the party, writing him a letter and playing on the fact that he was a friend of Kat’s father. Meanwhile, Kat is getting closer to Dominic at work. He reveals who he is to her and invites her to the party.

Having received a reply from Terence inviting her and her daughter, Katherine, to the party, Deirdre plans to have Joy pretend to be Kat. Kat’s best friend, Isla (Isabella Gomez), makes her a dress for the party, Deirdre finds out that Kat has been invited to the party and takes her ticket and burns it. She takes the dress Isla made for her and gives it to Joy. She tells Kat if she tries to come to the party she will never get her inheritance.

A smitten Dominic invites her over to meet his friends. Kat turns up in her elf outfit but his friends recognise her from Joy’s video. An embarrassed and angry Kat leaves Dominic’s house even as he tries to apologise, not having realised, until that moment, that he had met her and she was from the viral video.

A morose Kat returns home and laments her relationship status with Dominic. Dominic, meanwhile, is also lamenting his relationship status, feeling that he has lost out with Kat due to the earlier encounter. He tells his father about his misgivings and how she left behind her songwriting book when she ran out of the house. His father tells him he can fix it. Dominic is not so sure.

Later, Kat comes home to find her step-family getting ready to go to the party. When Joy goes to get her handbag, Kat sees her snow-globe. The snow-globe is special to Kat as it reminds of her father. Joy and Kat fight over the item and it breaks. Deirdre and her daughters go to the party leaving an angry and heartbroken Kat behind.

Kat finds the letter that Deirdre received from Terence and realises that he expects to meet her. She decides to go to the party. At the party, Deirdre is desperately trying to find Terence, unsure what he looks like having never met him. Elsewhere, Isla, who is helping with the entertainment at the party, helps Kat to sneak into the party.

During the Christmas show, that Kat has unwittingly found herself part of, Kat accidentally knocks the show’s Snow Queen unconscious. The show organiser (Bethany Brown) tells Kat she will have to take her place. Dominic comes and finds her backstage and they make up. Kat performs at the party and impresses all who have attended.

Kat tells Terence about Deirdre’s plan. Deirdre tells Kat that she has spent all of her inheritance. Terence tells Kat that he will look after her and she can chase her dream. He has the Decker clan escorted from the party. Dominic apologises for his friends and not intervening. He asks Kat to dance with him, saying it is a Wintergarden tradition. They dance and fall in love. The end.

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish is a passable Christmas movie. Starring Laura Marano, who was also in Netflix’s The Perfect Date, another, quite sweet, teenage rom-com, it is a brain-in-neutral experience. One could watch the entire film in silence and know what is going to happen at the end or even miss the first hour and not be even slightly perturbed. The acting is made-for-television standard, with those playing the Decker clan hamming it up for the camera.

Gregg Sulkin, as the handsome Dominic, is uninterestingly attractive. He will never struggle for attention but neither does he have the looks of someone you feel compelled to watch on the big screen. As Marano’s character is an aspiring singer/songwriter the film has songs in it. They are all completely forgettable and performed with staggering blandness. Mariah Carey’s Christmas money is not likely to be challenged by any of the songs on offer in this film, all of which are horribly overproduced and auto-tuned.

Written by Leigh Dunlap and Michelle Johnston, with Johnston also on directing duties, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish is eighty-five minutes of harmless fluff in a festive setting. This is the sort of film you will have on in the background when all the family have come around for dinner and proceed to talk over it.

Not an awful film, in spite of my less than glowing review, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish is not great either and is unlikely to make anybody’s top ten favourite Christmas films list.

The Knight Before Christmas (Netflix) – review

Brief Synopsis: When high school science teacher, Brooke, hits a man whilst driving through a snowstorm, she feels compelled to look after the man, Sir Cole, because she thinks the accident has caused a brain trauma that has him believing he is a medieval knight from the fourteenth century.

Is It Any Good?The Knight Before Christmas, scoring a paltry 5.6 on IMDB, is on first glance a pretty weak effort if one goes by the trailer. In truth, the film is elevated by the performances and a quirky premise.

Spoiler territory: In fourteenth-century Norwich, England, Sir Cole Lyons (Josh Whitehouse) and his brother, Sir Geoffrey (Harry Jarvis), are preparing for the annual Christmas hawking trial. The brothers hatch a plan to capture the hawk, one going west and the other heading east, their plan to flank the bird and meet in the middle.

In modern-day Ohio, high school science teacher, Brooke Winters (Vanessa Hudgens), is talking to Paige (Shanice Johnson) about her disappointing grades. Paige tells her that her boyfriend broke up with her. Brooke tells her that the fairytale of a shiny knight is exactly that, a fairytale. She tells Paige not to let this break-up mess up her grades. Brooke gets a call from her sister, Madison (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who needs her to pick up her daughter as she is busy at work. Brooke tells her it will be no problem.

Back in Norwich, Sir Cole has ventured into the woods. He meets an old woman, an Old Crone (Ella Kenion), who he goes to help. She asks about his brother, saying he is to be knighted the coming Christmas. Sir Cole acknowledges this fact. The Old Crone tells him that he has a different quest, one that will take him to a faraway land.

Sir Cole thinks that the Old Crone is confused by the cold weather. She gives him a shimmering amulet telling him that he has to complete his quest by Christmas Eve or he will not become a knight. The Old Crone disappears. Shortly afterwards, Sir Cole disappears also. His horse returns to the castle where Sir Geoffrey wonders why his brother has not returned.

Sir Cole appears in a Christmas fair in present-day Ohio. He looks around in wonder at the modern fair. Elsewhere, Brooke is with her niece, Claire (Isabelle Franca), enjoying the fair. As Sir Cole walks about the fair and is surprised to be accosted by a group of young women who want to take a selfie with him. Brooke takes Claire to visit Santa.

She is perturbed to see her ex-boyfriend, James (Neil Babcock) walking around the fair with his new girlfriend, Kaelynn (Olivia Gudaniec). A wandering Sir Cole mistakes Ms Santa for the Old Crone. He apologises and walks away. As he is distracted by an aeroplane, Brooke walks into him, spilling hot chocolate on his armour. Brooke is mortified, apologising profusely. Sir Cole, having tasted the hot chocolate, wants to know what it is.

Claire’s mother turns up at the fair and her and Brooke go to meet her. The weather is getting worse, a snow storm coming. Brooke drives in the storm, her visibility vastly impaired. She does not see Sir Cole wander into the path of her car and hits him.

She gets out of the car to see if he is alright. Sir Cole, clad in armour, is unharmed. He asks Brooke where he is. She tells him that he is in Ohio. The local policeman, Officer Stevens (Arnold Pinnock), comes and sees Brooke with Sir Cole. Brooke tells him what happened and says she thinks he might have hit his head.

Officer Stevens takes Sir Cole to the hospital, Brooke follows them. At the hospital, Sir Cole is physically fine, completely unharmed. Officer Stevens tells Brooke that he believes he is a fourteenth-century knight. Brooke insists on taking Sir Cole with her until he regains his memory, even as Officer Stevens protest.

Back at Brooke’s house, she suggests he change into more modern attire, giving him clothing left by her ex. As Brooke speaks to her sister on the phone, Sir Cole lights a fire outside, looking to kill an animal for his dinner. Brooke intervenes and takes him to a diner.

After eating and returning home, Sir Cole continues to be wowed by modern technology. Sir Cole stay up all night, watching television and studying modern language. He invites Brooke to watch television with him. They fall asleep watching television. Sir Cole sees the Old Crone in a dream and asks about his quest, still unsure as to what it is. The Old Crone tells him to open his heart.

The next day they prepare to decorate the house for Christmas. Brooke tells Sir Cole about the passing of her mother. She talks to him about his time, saying that time travel is not possible. He says that because she cannot comprehend it does not mean it does not exist.

Sir Cole takes Brooke’s car and goes in search of his quest. Having abandoned the vehicle, Brooke finds a slightly despondent Sir Cole later in the day. He is no closer to discovering his quest. Brooke shows Sir Cole England on a live stream. Madison and Claire come to visit. Claire wants to become a knight and asks Sir Cole to teach her how to fight. Madison does not think it is a good idea. Sir Cole assures her that any swordplay would only be with sticks.

Madison tells Brooke that Sir Cole seems to be the perfect mate except for the fact that he believes he is from the fourteenth century. Madison and Claire go home. Brooke’s neighbour, Allyson (Mimi Gianopulos), having seen Sir Cole a few days before, comes to invite him to come Christmas carolling with her and her friends. Sir Cole, seeing how uncomfortable it makes Brooke, politely declines.

Madison is looking after hard working dad-of-four children, David’s (Jean-Michel Le Gal) offspring. David is off to help with the charity preparations. Brooke tells Sir Cole about the annual Christmas dinner charity that her parents used to run and how she has carried on the tradition since her mother’s death.

They go to help with the preparations and Brooke tells Sir Cole about David’s situation, how his wife died and he has four young children that he supports by doing two jobs. He insists on volunteering for the Christmas feast to set a good example to his children.

It is one day before Christmas Eve and Brooke takes Sir Cole to the supermarket to pick some bits for the Christmas dinner. Sir Cole, who takes it upon himself to sample the bread, is not impressed by its taste and tells Brooke he will bake the bread.

Claire asks her mum if she and Lily, one of David’s children and her best friend, can go and play in the snow. Madison, though a little worried about the snowstorm, is swayed by the girls pleading. Brooke and Sir Cole get closer as he bakes bread. Their baking is interrupted by a phone call from Madison. She cannot find Claire and Lily.

Brooke and Sir Cole go to help her look for them. Sir Cole, used to tracking in the fourteenth century, tracks the girls to a nearby lake. He rescues Claire from the surface of a frozen lake. With the girls safely home, Officer Stevens thanks Sir Cole for his assistance. In a private conversation, he tells Brooke that he is not sure that supporting Sir Cole’s delusion is the best course of action.

Later, Brooke tells Sir Cole that after his heroic act, surely he is worthy of becoming a knight. Sir Cole is not so sure. Sir Cole and Brooke are about to kiss but are interrupted once again when Madison’s husband, Evan (Scott Yamamura), returns from his business trip. Brooke and Sir Cole go to the Christmas market.

Whilst at the market, they see Eileen (Jayne Eastwood). As they converse with her, a pickpocket (Ryan Clarke) steals her purse but is quickly apprehended by Sir Cole. Officer Stevens comes and takes the pickpocket away, once again indebted to Sir Cole. Sir Cole is not sure he has the wherewithal to be a knight. Brooke gives him a pep talk.

It is Christmas Eve and Brooke and Sir Cole are getting ready to go to the Christmas charity dinner. They go to the dinner. At the dinner, the town has gotten together and had a whip-round for David and his family. David is overwhelmed by the support. Sir Cole puts on his knights’ garb and poses for pictures at the party.

Allyson approaches Sir Cole with mistletoe but realising he obviously has feelings for Brooke, says he should save the mistletoe for somebody he cares about. Sir Cole kisses Brooke. His amulet begins to glow. He and Brooke go back to the spot that he appeared. He bids Brooke farewell and disappears.

A heartbroken Brooke walks back home, encountering Paige on the way. Paige tells her that her ex wants to get back together but because of what Brooke told her, about true love not being real, she is focusing on her career. Brooke tells Paige she was wrong to tell her that. A melancholy Brooke returns home missing Sir Cole.

Back in the fourteenth century, Sir Cole returns to the castle. He tells his brother that he is in love but wishes to be present for his knighting ceremony. Geoffrey tells him he must go to his love. Back in the present, it is Christmas Day and Madison and Evan are surprised when Claire excitedly reveals a puppy under the tree.

Brooke comes over to the house. Madison asks about Sir Cole but Brooke tells her she does not think she will see him again. Back in Norwich, Sir Cole is searching in the forest for the Old Crone. She appears and he begs her to send him back to the future. She grants his wish. Back in Ohio, Claire is asking where Sir Cole is. As the adults try to awkwardly explain his absence, he appears with his horse. Sir Cole tells Brooke that she was his quest. They kiss. They get on his horse and ride off. The end.

The Knight Before Christmas is an enjoyable piece of festive fluff. Written by Cara J. Russell and directed by Monika Mitchell, it bumps along nicely, with the performances allowing for the suspension of belief. Josh Whitehouse is especially good as the displaced Sir Cole.

Vanessa Hudgens has become a modern-day Meg Ryan, working well opposite multiple leading men in Christmas or anytime rom-coms and somehow, like the erstwhile Ryan, managing to generate chemistry with all of them. The supporting players are able enough helping the central story and showing enough incredulity to stop the watching audience from scoffing.

At ninety-two minutes long The Knight Before Christmas is the perfect length for a rom-com. The story is quirky and original enough to be engaging even if the script is a bit heavy-handed in places.

Unlike the best Christmas films, there is no true antagonist in The Knight Before Christmas making the central premise of finding love across the centuries the main focus, not that it matters much but it might have made the film a little more challenging.

The Knight Before Christmas is an inoffensive and pleasant viewing experience and no worse than any of the many festive, made-for-television efforts that seem to be available at this time of year. Worth a look.

Holiday In The Wild (Netflix) – review

Brief Synopsis: Lady-who-lunches Kate’s life is thrown a curveball when, after her son, Luke, leaves for college, her husband, Drew, of over twenty years, tells her he is leaving her. Kate, who had planned for them to go on a second honeymoon on Safari in Africa, finds herself alone on the wild continent.

In Africa, she meets elephant conservationist and all-round handyman, Derek.

Is It Any Good?:

Holiday In The Wild is an inoffensive, rom-com by the numbers. Starring Kristin Davis and Rob Lowe, it looks at love blossoming between a more mature couple, a second chance for both. There is also a loose Christmas connection, hence the title.

Spoiler Territory:

It is August and Kate (Kristin Davis) has arranged for a photographer to take a Christmas family photo with her husband, Drew (Colin Moss), and soon to be going to college son, Luke (John Owen Lowe).

Drew does not see the importance of getting the photo done, especially as it is August. Kate explains that it is the last time they will probably ever do it as Luke is going to college the next day. They quickly finish with the photo and Drew leaves for work.

Later that day, Kate is out to lunch with a couple of friends, Trish (Thandi Puren) and Tabitha (Renate Stuurman). She ponders her impending empty nest and floats the notion of returning to the workforce. Trish questions her asking why she would want to return to work. Kate says what else would she do? Her two friends chuckle. She would lunch.

Luke leaves for college the next day. After he has left, Kate tells Drew that she has arranged a second honeymoon for them both to Africa. Drew tells her he is not in love with her anymore and is leaving her. He moves out immediately.

Committed to her African trip, Kate gets on the plane and goes to Zambia. She is picked up at the airport and taken to the resort where the suite she booked and every element of the holiday reminds her that she is no longer part of a marriage.

Whilst out to dinner alone, she meets Derek (Rob Lowe). He sees her sitting alone and guesses she is from New York. He notes the name tag on the table and asks her where her husband is. Kate tries to deflect the question but then unloads her stresses on a slightly surprised Derek, telling him that her husband left her and she is on holiday on her own and that she will probably be getting divorced in a couple of weeks. Kate leaves the restaurant.

The next day, Kate goes to meet the pilot of a small plane to take her on safari. The pilot is Derek. They begin the flight. Derek sees something as he is flying and lands there plane mid-flight. He tells Kate to wait as he leaves the plane. She immediately follows after him as he disappears into the bush.

They come across an adult elephant that has had its tusk removed and its child. Derek, who is also an elephant conservationist, gets Kate to help him capture the baby elephant. Derek calls for some help and men come from the elephant shelter. He tells Kate that he will get her to the lodge to continue her safari. Kate wants to go with the elephant. Jonathan (Fezile Mpela), leader of the shelter, allows her to go with the elephant.

Kate, who had been a vet before she got married, helps with the elephant at the shelter. Jonathan explains the mission of the shelter and Kate is inspired by the place and decides to stay. Jonathan tells her she can take the tent at the end. She goes into the wrong tent, ending up in Derek’s quarters. He tells her that her tent is on the other side. As she leaves, she meets Leslie (Hayley Owen). Leslie is going to Derek’s tent.

Derek and Kate spend a lot of time together. Kate gets attached to the baby elephant, that they name Manu, they rescued. The next day the Manu gets up, well on the road to recovery. Kate uses her veterinary experience to help out around the shelter whilst she is there.

As her return date approaches, Derek decides to take Kate on the safari she missed as a thank you for all her help. They get talking and Kate finds out that Derek had a wife but she died. Kate cooks dinner for the camp, thanking them for their hospitality. She goes back to Derek’s tent with him. As she and Derek go to kiss they are interrupted by Leslie, who does not hide her displeasure at seeing Kate. Kate leaves the tent.

Derek goes after her, wanting to explain Leslie’s presence but Kate gives him short shrift, telling him that he only looks for things that amuse him and keep him happy. Derek leaves her to her thoughts. The next morning Kate, having decided to return home to America, goes to see Manu. She decides to extend her stay.

Three months later and the camp is getting ready for Christmas. The people who work at the camp await the arrival of their families. Johnathan, realising that Kate is alone for Christmas, tells her that he considers her part of his family.

Derek brings the mail from the mainland and abroad. Kate has bought a coffee machine and receives divorce papers from her husband. Later that night, Manu, along with another elephant, escapes the camp. Derek says that they will look in the morning. Kate’s fretting causes him to have a change of heart and they go to look for him.

After a few hours, Derek stops. He tells Kate they need to sleep and will continue looking in the morning. They are woken by an adult elephant. Derek recognises the elephant from the reserve.

They return to the reserve. Derek is called away, needing to go and pick someone up. Kate helps Jonathan’s wife, Aliyah (Faniswas Yisa), cook a Christmas lunch. Aliyah tells Kate that goat stew is the way to a man’s heart, alluding to Derek. A flustered Kate denies wanting anything to do with Derek.

Jonathan comes into the kitchen and tells Kate that Derek needs to see her at the airport. Kate rushes to the airport. Luke is there to surprise her, his dad having bought him the flight ticket. They all go to the Christmas lunch. Jonathan says to Derek that it is good to see him let someone get close to him, noting his affection for Kate. Derek is convinced Kate is going to leave.

Kate and Luke talk about her relationship with his father. He tells her he is surprised they stayed together for so long. Kate sees Derek a bit later. Derek is painting but does not let her see the painting. They speak briefly and she bids him goodnight. Derek uncovers the canvas. It is a sketch of Kate.

Luke tells his mother that he dropping out of college to concentrate on music. Kate tries to tell him not to but he explains to her that he does not want to wait twenty years to follow his dreams, alluding to her happiness there in Africa. The next day Luke goes home. Derek goes to see Kate later that night. She has decided to return to America. They kiss and Derek returns to his tent.

Back in his tent, Leslie has uncovered the canvas with Kate’s drawing on it as Derek comes in. Derek tells Leslie that they are over. She tells him that her family, who funds the reserve, are going to stop the funding. Kate flies back to America.

Derek tries to get funding for the reserve. Kate takes a veterinary post back in the States. She persuades her ex to fund a music scholarship for Luke. Kate calls Jonathan to find out how the reserve is going. He tells her about the financial woes of the reserve.

Kate uses her connections to raise funds for the reserves. She receives a painting from Derek. She keeps working at the veterinary clinic. Realising that the clinic only tries to make money, she returns to Africa and surprises Derek. They return Manu to the wild. The end.

Holiday In The Wild is a gentle rom-com, set in Africa with western world Christmas sensibilities. With Lowe and Davis taking the central roles as the romantic couple, the film shows an older, more mature, romance blossoming.

The acting is good without being outstanding and the story is perfunctory rather than inspired. Lowe does not stray far from is roughish, smiling, couldn’t-careless persona of many an easy paying job over the years and Davis is Charlotte displaced and aged up.

That is not to say Holiday In The Wild is unwatchable. It is just pleasant, though not overly so. One does not really care about any of the characters in the film. The elephants are quite nice though.

Written by Neil and Tippi Dobrofsky and directed by Ernie Barbarash, Holiday In The Wild is a rom-com by numbers with a bit of animal welfare thrown in for good measure. The directing is unremarkable, barely taking advantage of the African landscape.

Holiday In The Wild is an okay film that has very little to do with Christmas except for being set over that holiday period. Only watch if you feel compelled to see every Christmas release in 2019.

The dream continues.

My next film is planned for Jan/Feb 2015. It had been slated for the end of November 2014, but an impending knee operation put paid to that. With a free fortnight to fill whilst I got over the op, I took the time to put together a funding project. Up until now I had financed all of my projects with my own hard earned cash, which is to be expected. Now I’ve got to a stage – fourth film, not exactly a massive body of work, but enough when all who have helped, have worked for the love of the craft and meals! Goodwill will only get you so far – so this time around, not only do I want to improve the quality and scope of the project, I would also like to thank my wonderful crew with cash money. I’ve decided to use a crowd funding platform – Indiegogo – to try and raise finance. I’ve fashioned a promo film and created some perks to encourage people to get on-board. Obviously running it over the Xmas period is not exactly a genius manoeuvre, but heh-ho, sometimes needs must! I will put the link up as soon as it goes live. Crossing my fingers….and toes!