Take 3: USS Christmas Review

While looking through some of my movie reviews from last year, I came to the realization I only wrote about two Christmas films. To make up for that, I will make a greater effort this year to review more Christmas movies. As it was Veteran’s Day two days ago, I decided the first Christmas film review of 2022 would be for USS Christmas! In the two years since its release, I’ve heard good things about this particular Hallmark picture. The network also has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to their military related Christmas titles. This is not the first time I’ve talked about USS Christmas. Back in 2020, I wrote a Word on the Street story about the project. I mentioned that the only Tiger Cruise movie I knew of was the 2004 Disney Channel movie, Tiger Cruise. Therefore, USS Christmas was filling a creative void that hadn’t been revisited in over ten years.

USS Christmas poster created by Crown Media Productions and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Jen Lilley portrays the protagonist, Maddie. Her reason for joining the Tiger Cruise was to spend Christmas with her sister, Amelia, who was portrayed by Stefanie Butler. I really liked the on-screen camaraderie between the sisters! While sharing breakfast at a local restaurant, Amelia and Maddie talk about a variety of subjects. Throughout their conversation, Jen’s and Stefanie’s facial expressions changed with fluidity. The actresses also had nice on-screen chemistry, giving the impression the sisters got along really well. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of Trevor Donovan’s movies. However, I have always thought he was one of Hallmark’s strongest actors. In USS Christmas, Trevor portrayed Lt. Billy Jenkins. At the start of the story, Billy is distant with Maddie, maintaining a sense of professionalism. As the film continues, a kind hearted, more spontaneous side to Billy breaks forth. This progression in Billy’s personality was well executed through Trevor’s acting talents! The naturalness of this progression allowed Billy’s part of the story to be believable.

The set design: Like any Hallmark Christmas film, USS Christmas contained its fair share of seasonal décor. But it was the way this décor was incorporated into the set design that caught my eye. When Maddie’s family has their first dinner on the Tiger Cruise, the dining room is surrounded by white walls. White and blue Christmas decorations are placed in the background, from a blue garland to a white Christmas tree with blue ornaments. These complimentary hues added a sense of elegance to this space! Garland was a nice touch to other sets. A traditional green garland paired with red ornaments and bows was framed around the dark wood windows of the Jenkin family home. A similar looking garland framed the kitchen window of the Contino family home, a room that contained white cabinets. That garland shows how a simple Christmas decoration can complement various different spaces!

The mystery: Mysteries are uncommon in Hallmark’s Christmas films. So, the inclusion of a mystery in USS Christmas was a pleasant addition! In an effort to write a story about finding love on a Tiger Cruise, Maddie finds a journal written by a man named Sam. In this journal, Sam talks about falling in love with a woman named Dorothy. Maddie and Billy spend the rest of the movie searching for Dorothy and Sam, going on a journey to figure out what happened to this couple. While I won’t reveal what Billy and Maddie discover, I will say the mystery itself was intriguing! It gave me a reason to stay invested in the story.

Children holding American flags during a sunset image created by rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People photo created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The Tiger Cruise itself getting overshadowed: It’s been years since I’ve seen Tiger Cruise. From what I remember, the cruise itself was focused on to the point where it was its own character. With USS Christmas, I felt the cruise was overshadowed by the mystery of Sam and Dorothy. As I already said in this review, I liked the mystery in this story. However, that part was prioritized above everything else. When Maddie and Billy go to New York, I thought, “Wait, isn’t this movie supposed to be about the Tiger Cruise”?

Underutilized characters: On the Tiger Cruise, Charlotte is boarding alongside her brother, who is a member of the U.S.S. Polaris. Because Charlotte is also a writer, I assumed she would help Maddie in her quest to find Sam and Dorothy. Unfortunately, Charlotte and her brother briefly appeared in the film for about three scenes. These are just two characters I feel were underutilized.

Inconsistent use of Easter Eggs: The inclusion of Easter Eggs can be a nice treat for viewers and, if done right, can be cleverly woven into the story. There were some nice Easter Eggs in USS Christmas. But I was confused what the overarching direction for these Easter Eggs was. Toward the beginning of the movie, I found a few Easter Eggs related to It’s a Wonderful Life, as Maddie says that is her favorite Christmas film. Throughout the movie, there were at least two Easter Eggs referencing Top Gun. I even caught an Easter Egg connected to Hallmark itself. I wish the film’s creative team had chosen one topic for their Easter Eggs and consistently stuck with it.

Blue sparkly Christmas tree image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/frame”>Frame vector created by Macrovector – Freepik.com</a>. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/merry-christmas-card_2875396.htm’>Designed by Macrovector</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

As I said in the introduction, Hallmark has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to their military related Christmas titles. While some of these titles have been better than others, I haven’t seen a military related Hallmark Christmas movie that was bad or disappointing. With USS Christmas, it was a nice, pleasant film. It isn’t an instant classic for me or a new favorite movie. But, for what it was, USS Christmas was fine. Hallmark’s efforts to tell more creative stories seems to be an exception to the rule. So, I appreciate how the creative team behind USS Christmas strove to create a type of story that isn’t common in entertainment media. It also helps how a mystery was incorporated into the film, as mysteries aren’t often found in Hallmark’s Christmas offerings. I’ve heard Jen Lilley and Trevor Donovan have begun appearing in Great American Family’s (GAF) movies. I’ll have to check out their films from that network!

Overall score: 7.1 out of 10

Have you seen USS Christmas? Which military related Hallmark Christmas movie do you like? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Lake Effects Review

‘Family Vacation Films’, that’s the theme of August’s Genre Grandeur. When one mentions this subject, the idea of happy times or fun destinations usually come to mind. What also comes to mind is how a family chooses to go on these trips, mostly to have a good experience. But what if a family takes a vacation out of necessity? And what if it wasn’t possible for that family to take a literal trip? Perhaps a “staycation” would have to be in order. A figurative trip away from personal hardships, doubt, and stresses of everyday life. This is the case of Lake Effects, the movie I’ve selected for this month’s event. While Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, could be a vacation spot, the protagonist and her family live in that location. But due to a family tragedy, they are forced to take a break from their daily lives. Whether a family vacation is close to home or travels abroad, what’s important are memories shared together.

Lake Effects poster created by Life Out Loud Films (LOL), Hallmark Channel, and Anchor Bay Entertainment 

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Around the time of this film’s release, 2012, Jane Seymour appeared in several Hallmark productions. Whether starring in Dear Prudence and Perfectly Prudence or in a supporting role in A Royal Christmas, these roles have been enjoyable to watch. In Lake Effects, Jane’s portrayal of Vivian was one of the strongest performances in this movie! A tradition Vivian and her husband, Ray, shared was Ray giving Vivian a pink rose every Friday. While cleaning out the closet, Vivian finds a box of old roses from Ray. Out of the blue, she starting sobbing. Because of Ray’s death, all Vivian’s bottled-up feelings bubbled over.

Another strong performance came from Scottie Thompson, who portrayed the protagonist, Sara. While sharing a drink with her sister, Lily, Sara reminisces over memories of her father. But when she remembers a secret her father kept from the family, Sara’s demeanor quickly changes. Her face falls in a serious expression, not sugarcoating anything she’s saying. Sara’s tone of voice is also serious, attempting to get Lily to see things from her perspective.

I was pleasantly surprised by Ben Savage’s performance in Lake Effects. His character, Carl, was very different from his portrayal of Corey Matthews from Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World. Carl was an enthusiastic man who was passionate about finding a mythical creature called the Smithy. But there are times when he can be awkward. This is the case when being interviewed by a television host. During the interview, Carl has a blank look on his face, unsure of what to do. Sitting tense on a couch, Carl is nervous about being filmed, especially since he’s never been interviewed before. What made this performance work was how believable it was.

The scenery: At the end of Lake Effects, on-screen text states the movie was “filmed entirely on location at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia”. As someone who never knew this location existed until I watched this movie, I was impressed by the natural beauty it had to offer! The film opens with the sun rising over the lake. The peach-gray glow of the rising sun reflected off the water, creating a peaceful environment. In an overhead, cutaway shot, the lake was shown during the day. The clear, blue water was surrounded by green lawns and a mixture of green and orange trees. Topped off with a clear sky, this location appeared inviting!

Evening view from the shore image created by 0melapics at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/landscape-in-a-swamp-at-night_1042860.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by 0melapics – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

On-the-nose music: As I’ve stated before, music can highlight a scene’s intended mood and elevate emotions among the characters. Even if there are lyrics within the music, those songs should appropriately fit what’s happening on screen. But in the case of Lake Effects, the music was so on-the-nose, it was, honestly, cringey. One example happens when Sara and Lily are sharing drinks at a local restaurant. A live band performs a song containing the lyrics “there’s a storm that’s brewing outside”. A few minutes later, Sara shares Ray’s secret, causing animosity between her and Lily. Because this happened on more than one occasion, the on-the-nose music became annoying.

Inconsistent elements: There were some elements of the story that were inconsistent. Technology was one of them. When Sara is arriving at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, she is experiencing technical issues with her Bluetooth earpiece. She even says “is it still stringing tin cans around here”? A few scenes later, Sara accepts a call on her cell phone in her parents’ driveway. Based on that short call, it seems like her phone is working perfectly fine. As I already mentioned, Sara has a Bluetooth earpiece, as well as a cell phone. This phone looks like a smartphone from around the early 2010s. Meanwhile, Carl receives a call on a flip-phone from the previous decade. In one scene, a cassette boombox was featured at an event. With all that said, it seems like Hallmark forgot when Lake Effects was meant to take place.

Too many cliches: Back in 2020, I reviewed JL Family Ranch: The Wedding Gift. One of the flaws of that film was how many Hallmark movie cliches were featured in the story. Lake Effects has the exact same issue. The 2012 production was filled with cliches typically found in Hallmark Channel movies. A few of these cliches are the “woman from the city coming back to her small hometown” cliché, the “save the (insert establishment here)” cliché, the “business person is a jerk and/or out of touch” cliché, and the “small town festival conveniently taking place” cliché. What’s frustrating about Lake Effects is how it was originally shown on what is now known as Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. This second network has historically created films that were more dramatic and serious from Hallmark Channel’s lighter content. The inclusion of these cliches made the purpose of this story confusing. Was this film meant to be a Hallmark Channel movie, but Hallmark ended up premiering it on the second channel? Or was Lake Effects always meant to have a serious tone, border-lining Hallmark Hall of Fame?

So many story ideas: Like I just mentioned, there were too many cliches found in Lake Effects. These cliches lent themselves to several story ideas. Because of the inclusion of the “save the (insert establishment here)” cliché, part of the story revolved around Sara attempting to save her family’s home. Since so much emphasis was given to this part of the plot, other story ideas weren’t fully developed. In Smith Mountain Lake, there was a group called the “She-Doos”. This group consisted of women who take occasional trips on their jet-skis. With the “She-Doos”, there was an interesting story idea waiting to come to fruition. Unfortunately, it was competing with several other story ideas, trying to win over the audience’s attention.

Colorful travel suitcase image created by Pikisuperstar at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/beautiful-illustration-of-travel_2686674.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/watercolor”>Watercolor vector created by Pikisuperstar – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Lake Effects is a movie Hallmark fans typically don’t talk about. It also seems to have been forgotten over the years. Now that I’ve seen the film, I think I have an idea why this is the case. The 2012 title is uninspiring. It’s filled with too many cliches, but doesn’t take the initiative to try anything new. Lake Effects attempts to adopt many different stories. However, the execution of these stories was weak. I will admit the scenery was aesthetically pleasing. But, as I’ve said before on 18 Cinema Lane, “the scenery can’t save you”. Like I’ve also said, a film’s script can make or break a production. If the script isn’t strong, there’s only so much a creative team can do to remedy the issue. While watching Lake Effects, there were a few story ideas trying to burst out of the murkiness of poor content. Sadly, these ideas couldn’t reach above the surface.

Overall score: 4.5 out of 10

Have you seen Lake Effects? Are there any lesser known Hallmark movies you’d like to see me review? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Oh Lil Christmas Tree: My New Christmas Project

For years, I’ve had this small, artificial Christmas tree. I tried to make an effort to put it up and decorate it. But, for one reason or another, I never found the time to do this. In order to help me remember, I’ve decided to take on a new on-going project! Every year, I will purchase a Christmas tree decoration that represents something about my blog! This idea came from Rachel from Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast, where she decorates her Christmas tree with ornaments that reflect her year. For 2020, I’ve purchased a small colonial style hat! Last year, I wrote an editorial about why Jiggy Nye, from Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, is not an effective villain. Because Jiggy is from Williamsburg, Virginia and since I’ve been to Williamsburg, Virginia, this little hat was too perfect to pass up!

The actual size of this hat is about the palm of my hand. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Jiggy wears this hat three times in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Here is a photo that better showcases Jiggy’s hat. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

Do you like my new project? Which decoration would you suggest for my Christmas tree? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen