566: A Refreshing (and Free) Movie to Help You Feel Thankful Once Again

very holiday season, my wife Amy and I are on a family-wide mission to watch every holiday movie, special and DVD ever produced. I know! I know! That involves 100s of shows and movies!
    Believe me, I know! We’ve been at this for years.
    This year, we’ve seen some real howlers, already. Have you seen that DVD of a full-length “Munsters” Christmas movie? Don’t waste your money!!! And that “Bing Crosby All Star” DVD with the red ornaments on the cover? That’s very hard to watch because the producers didn’t upgrade the scratchy old black-and-white variety show. Ouch!
    So, I know what I’m talking about when I highly recommend Hallmark’s “The National Tree,” debuting at 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Saturday November 28. Here’s a link to the Hallmark Web site to learn more.
    We’re telling you about it today, because millions of Americans take a break from the Internet over the Thanksgiving holidays—and you’ll want to mark your calendar or set your recorder right now to catch it this weekend. The movie is, indeed, “free” as long as your cable system carries the Hallmark channel.

    The story is simple—as the best holiday dramas usually are: A grouchy old Dad and his restless teen-age son “win” the nationwide contest to provide a National Tree in Washington D.C. They live in the Pacific Northwest and soon are joined by an equally restless marketing executive to “help” them in their cross-country journey to deliver the tree to D.C.
    You’ll be able to predict what happens with the characters’ relationships the moment the movie starts, so that’s no great surprise. Then, what is remarkable here?
    First of all, there is some high drama along the road—unusual plot twists for a Hallmark movie.
    Second, the teen-ager in this movie, whose first name is “Rock,” changes the whole course of the journey through video clips he sends to a Web site that unites many American fans of the tree’s odyssey. This is a pretty cool cross-generational part of the story.
    Third, I sincerely enjoyed how this new movie combines themes from a half dozen other beloved classics to build something that looks—well, as shiny and new as any holiday movie can be after 100s of predecessors in this genre.

    I was so impressed that I interviewed Evan Williams, the young Canadian actor who plays Rock.
    Once we connected via telephone, Evan and I were immediately on the same wavelength about this movie.
    Evan is a musician and also works in the fine arts. He gained some fame with a prominent role in the Canadian series, “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” a long-running drama about—well, about “restless teenagers.” So, with that big-time success in recent years, he’s devoted more time to acting than to his work in music or the fine arts.
    He’s a very bright spot in this Hallmark film, which co-stars Andrew McCarthy as the grouchy Dad. This young character Rock is consistently clever, occasionally funny and sometimes downright defiant. Plus, he’s the one who shows the old folks in the film how to build a way-cool Web site that will catch the nation’s attention.

    The first question I asked Rock was a bit awkward. I’ve watched Hallmark-branded TV specials for decades now. It’s a brand that always signals a quality production—and also signals a certain sweetness, as well. So, why would an edgy, multi-talented young artist from Canada be attracted to an American Hallmark production?
    Evan was honest: “Hallmark productions are very sincere—perhaps too sincere for some people’s liking. But I read this script, snapped my fingers and said, ‘Oh! I’ve got to do this part!’
    “It’s the complexity of this role—and the complexity of the issues—that really attracted me to the project. Consider the kind of economic situation that so many people are suffering through this year. Think about all the people who are realizing that trying to make a ton of money may not be the most important thing in life. This film really shows that what matters is a person’s heart.”
    Are you hearing a little echo of Jimmy Stewart from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”—if not “Wonderful Life”? Actually, when you see the film, you’ll notice that young Evan has some shaggy hair and appropriately teen-age clothes, but he’s a confident, lanky young actor who one might rank somewhere in the Stewart style.

    We need to refocus our vision after such a troubling year for millions of people, Evan said. We need to kick-start our awareness of the larger world.
    “The idea of traveling coast to coast like the characters do in this movie—that’s a really attractive idea to me—going all the way ocean to ocean and seeing all the different people and landscapes. I see this from a Canadian perspective because that’s where I live. If you travel all across Canada, you’ll see where settlements have grown over time into developed areas, but you also see the big interior of the continent.
    “It’s the differences in people from place to place that interest me most.”
    Evan actually has a beloved personal memory of this kind of travel. “When I was young, every year my parents would pack my three siblings and me into a van and drive from our home in Calgary to Toronto—a 36-hour drive—to our family cottage near Toronto. I haven’t done that in a while, but I love road trips like that.
    “You know, someday I’d like to retrace that whole route on a motorcycle.”
    Hmmm. Hallmark are you listening? A sequel here? A little Marlon Brando to go with the Jimmy Stewart?
    Perhaps for next Christmas.


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