The Knight Before Christmas

We know Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) doesn’t believe in fairy-tales because that’s what she flat-out tells a student at the very top of the movie. Making such bold and inflammatory statements practically invites the supernatural, so when a knight from 700 years ago suddenly turns up in her life, it’s pretty much her own fault.

Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse), the transplanted knight, was just going about his 1300s life when he meets an “old crone” (not my words, believe me, and not exactly an accurate description either, even, I suspect, by 1300s relativity) in the forest who gives him a quest to be completed before midnight on Christmas Eve. Next thing he knows he’s in Ohio. In the winter. He pops up in the middle of a Christmas village where his armour seems like it might just be another merry costume, and the fair Brooke doesn’t think much of her run in with him….until she later hits him with her metal steed car and has to take him to a hospital, where his ye olde claims of identity are mistaken for head trauma.

Brooke does what any intelligent young woman would do when she meets a crazy homeless person: she invites him into her home, to stay. You have to be quite a handsome crazy homeless person to merit such an invitation, I’d imagine, armour or no armour. Only her trusty best friend (and possibly her sister?) Madison (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is the voice of reason here, but she is too easily hung up upon, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, Sir Cole (as he insists on being called) gets his 21st century lesson from – where else? – the magic picture box, ie, Netflix itself, which continues to astound me with its ability to be, um, self-referential (by my count he watches Holiday In The Wild and The Holiday Calendar…had he kept scrolling he might have run into last year’s Vanessa Hudgens holiday offering, The Princess Switch; watch for its sequel, The Princess Switch: Switched again, a real honest to goodness thing, I kid you not, in 2020).

What will happen, then, when they inevitably fall in love? I mean, these two are kneading bread together in a way that makes me blush. Guys, I must be slipping. It is WAY too early in the Christmas season (in fact, I’d argue that it isn’t even the Christmas season yet) for me to feel this benevolent toward a holiday romance. Have I gone soft as the marshmallows in my hot chocolate?

The answer may be yes: I am an ooey-gooey puddle of movie-watching goodwill and kindness. I may have lost some self-respect, I may have lost your faith, I may have to change the title of this site, but the truth of the matter is: I didn’t fully hate this movie.

American Son

Kendra and Scott are estranged; their middle of the night reunion at a police station is fraught for many reasons. Hours ago, Kendra fought with her just-turned-18 year old son, Jamal, and now he’s missing. No longer a minor, the police won’t take his mother’s anxieties seriously, but this black mama can’t help but think the worst.

Kendra (Kerry Washington) gets no where the the newbie cop (Jeremy Jordan) but as soon as her white husband (Steven Pasquale) shows up, it’s another story. But it’s not a great story. Jamal may not be missing so much as involved in some sort of incident. Details are sparse, but his car’s been pulled over by a cop and no one’s heard much since.

As they wait for a senior officer (Eugene Lee) to arrive, Kendra and Scott unravel the many tensions in their marriage – racial and otherwise.

Taking place over the course of just a couple of very tense hours, the script pinpoints the particular experience of black Americans. Scott is sure that his son’s affluent background, prestigious schooling, and privileged address are enough to insulate him from the realities on the news. But Kendra knows when cops are making split-second decisions, his skin colour is all that matters.

American Son is absolutely riveting to watch. My only complaint is that the two have so many sharp edges it’s hard to really understand how they ever could have been a couple. But it hardly matters when Washington’s on the screen, and she’s always on the screen. Her performance is astonishing, and Kendra’s frantic worry is infectious. You want, very badly, for there to be any other reason for Jamal’s absence – but in today’s America, is that even realistic?

The Man Without Gravity

Before he was a man without gravity, he was just a boy, and before that, just a baby. He slid down his mother’s birth canal and immediately floated up toward the labour ward’s ceiling in a small, rural Italian town.

As a small child, Oscar’s mother and grandmother work tirelessly to keep him safe inside their house. They isolate him, keep him home from school – anything to protect his secret. His mother sews him a special weighted coat just to keep his feet on the ground, and when that fails, his friend Agata gives him her weighty pink backpack. But while little Oscar longs to be a regular kid, secretly he sees himself with a super hero’s abilities. It’s a lot to keep to himself. And it’s a lot to keep to myself – there are plot holes here that have me biting through my own tongue, but for the sake of “suspending disbelief” to “enjoy a movie” I’m doing my best to let them “not cause a nuclear meltdown in my brain” as they say.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then when adult Oscar (Elio Germano) puts himself on some sort of EuroVision reality competition. Which is weird because miraculous as it may seem, his ability has limited television appeal. He doesn’t fly, he merely floats. Even a one-trick pony would learn a second trick just to roll his eyes at the Man Without Gravity.

Anyway, before the television audience can lose its patience, Oscar gets an agent and everything goes tits up. And then things get really weird.

Anyway, I watched the dubbed version, which never does anyone any favours, except for me, Jay, who is too lazy to read subtitles on Netflix because I’m invariably doing something else and I don’t just mean biting my tongue REAL HARD. This movie has a few good ideas, and I had a few more just thinking how much better my script would be. That’s worth something, right? Maybe not a partially-severed tongue, but something.

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplated a “pause” that we just never came back to.

Assholes Drink Around The World

After nearly 2 weeks at Disney World, the Assholes have been deep in recovery mode. This video is the first in a series of answers to the question: Why?

 

 

Note: we’re not the first to accept the “Drink Around The World” challenge, or the last – let us know if you’ve attempted too.

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Noelle

Growing up, Noelle and Nick new what fates awaited them: Nick would take over his father’s role as Santa Claus, and Noelle’s job would be to support her brother and spread Christmas cheer. Sure it sounds awfully patriarchal, but do you think a Christmas movie has room to unpack that?

Spoiler alert: Santa dies (not to worry, off camera, nothing traumatic) and Nick, now an adult (Bill Hader), reluctantly dons the jolly red suit. He goes deep into training for his big night, learning the fireplace trick, and getting licensed to drive reindeer. But his heart’s not in it. When he confesses his ambivalence to sister Noelle (Anna Kendrick), she suggests he take a weekend away and come back refreshed. Except Nick doesn’t come back. Facing a ruined Christmas season, Noelle and her nanny Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) follow him to Arizona to pull him away from his new life of yoga and enlightenment.

Never having left the North Pole, Noelle is a fish out of water. Not unlike Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf, there’s a lot of humour to be found in a true believer, a fully Chistmas-spirited weirdo finding her way in a world full of cynicism. The girl uses gingerbread-scented deodorant for Santa’s sake. The joy she radiates is a lot to take and though I am not a fan of Anna Kendrick, I admit she is probably perfectly cast in the role. But she doesn’t just excel at all things merry and bright, she tints it all with just a hint of oppressed anger.

Although I like the premise, I wish they’d taken it further. Maybe I wish it was a little less kid-friendly and embraced the acerbic edge it seems more suited to. I’d like to praise it for its feminist edge but it largely ignores it in order to keep the sleigh moving along with good tidings and cheer, plus I’d previously watched Santa Girl, also about a daughter of Santa’s, which tackles a concerning amount of the same material. And I’d like to praise it for avoiding the sappy romance, except it seems to go to a lot of trouble to set one up only to leave us unfulfilled in the end. Strange choices.

A Bill Hader as Santa movie should be a slam dunk. You have to take a lot of wrong turns to mess this one up, but unfortunately Noelle just isn’t my cup of cocoa.

Klaus

Jesper is supposed to be a cadet training in the royal postal academy but he’s made no progress at all. His father pulled every string to get him there but he’s squandering his chance once again. Jesper’s a spoiled brat so his father gives him a wake up call. Jesper’s being sent to Smeerensburg where he’ll have a year to establish a working postal office – he’s got to get 6000 letters mailed or he’s cut off for good.

Smeerensburg is a remote island nation known for only one thing: its intense feuds. They are so dedicated to not mingling with their enemies they don’t even send their kids to school. Postman? Don’t need one, don’t want one. These are not the letter-sending type. Which is fine because we aren’t exactly rooting for dreadful Jesper to succeed. He makes zero friends, and is particularly afraid of a reclusive woodsman named Klaus who spends his days amassing treasures he carves out of wood. When Klaus gives one to a small lonesome boy, Jesper smells potential. He can trick kids into sending letter requests for toys to woodsman Klaus, fullfilling his postage quota.

I was so confused by this message: that the Santa Claus tradition has sprung from such a selfish, mercenary place, that I rewound the movie 34 minutes just to keep better track. But I was right: Jesper manufactures Christmas. I mean sure you can say that toy companies and Coca-Cola have been responsible for this exact thing, but convention says we usually put a bit more of a heart-warming gloss on it, at least for the kids.

You can appreciate that this whole letters-for-presents thing really takes off. And not to worry: the legend of Klaus eventually brings about lots of positive changes in the town, so it’s not a horrible message for kids. It just takes its time getting there.

With excellent voice work from Jason Schwartzman, JK Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack and more, this Netflix original eventually manages to embrace the holiday spirit and puts a bright spot in your heart. It took me a while to win me over, but eventually I realized that what concerned me first was actually its virtue: since it takes a different approach to its theme, it’s nearly Christmas cliche-free. What a marvel! Klaus rewards patience, and it breathes new life into the genre.

reclusive woodsman