OPERATION CHRISTMAS DROP
Directed by Martin Wood
Written by Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer
A photo of cargo pilot Capt. Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig) in a Santa hat using military planes to drop presents to surrounding islands on Christmas time gave Washington the impression that their air base on Guam may be slacking. In response, Congresswoman Bradford (Virginia Madsen) sent her no-nonsense aide Erica Miller (Kat Graham) to that base a week before Christmas on a fact-finding mission to evaluate Andrew's air base to see if their activities were wasting military funds so it can be closed down.
As she got won over by the islands' beauty and people, Erica discovered that the drop was an actual humanitarian mission that had been going on as an islander tradition for 70 years. This fact was the only surprise in this wholesome feel-good rom-com. An ill-timed typhoon and a grinchy congresswoman served only as temporary spoilers. Amid scenes of beaches and snorkeling, there were tropical Christmas parties and carols to set the holiday mood. The shout-out to the US military forces stationed in the Pacific was quite heartwarming.
MIDNIGHT AT THE MAGNOLIA
Directed by Max McGuire
Written by Carley Smale
Childhood friends Maggie Quinn (Natalie Hall) and Jack Russo (Evan Williams) were co-hosts of a successful local radio morning show in Chicago. Their families were very close friends as well, and they celebrated holidays together. When they were offered nationwide syndication, they planned a live New Year's Eve broadcast to introduce their respective significant others to the public. However, they both became single before the big day, so Jack thought it would be a good idea for them to lie to everyone and pretend to be a romantic couple themselves.
Their fathers were owners of a jazz club called the Magnolia which held an annual New Year's Eve party, making it an ideal venue for the planned broadcast. This rom-com had an interesting premise of long-time platonic friends finally realizing they were right for each other. However, it also followed the typical formula by having a major conflict come up right on the day before their big announcement, to teach the important lesson that lying is not good policy. Anyhow, you simply knew that things will iron themselves out before the film ends.
CHRISTMAS MADE TO ORDER
Directed by Sam Irvin
Written by Matt Marx and Anna White
Steven (Jonathan Bennett) was a very driven architect who was about to be named partner of his firm. Gretchen (Alexa PenaVega) was working part-time in an advertising but was launching her new business as a holiday decorator. When his parents and sister's family announced at the last minute that they were going to spend the holidays with him, Steven hired Gretchen to do the Christmas decorations in his house. Since he was swamped with work, Steven also asked Gretchen to coordinate Christmas activities to keep his family entertained.
As would be expected in a Hallmark Christmas movie, the dour and dry Steven would eventually warm up to the infectious Christmas spirit which Gretchen so cheerfully and passionately exuded. Aside from holiday cheer, the main message of the film was about believing in one's self and following one's dreams. PenaVega and Bennett gave very likable lead performances. The bright, colorful production design was so effusively Christmassy. Even if the decisions made were realistically very risky in real life, the film's earnest and optimistic premise will win you over with its winsome holiday sentimentality.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."