Tag Archives: holiday movies

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I was babysitting my nephews this weekend, and after dinner we got a big bucket of popcorn, drinks in spill-proof containers, and crawled into bed to watch some “scary” Halloween movies together. Brady is newly 8 and Jack is 5 and two thirds so I didn’t want anything that was inappropriately scary, but I wanted to give them a taste of Halloween and who better than Tim Burton to do just that. We watched Frankenweenie, a favourite of mine, and Jack now has some very pervasive ideas about reanimating dead pets with electricity. I suggested to him that this was something that might only work in movies, but no, he assured me, this was not so. Apologies to my sister’s dog, whose corpse may suffer any range of indignities.

Interestingly, The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t go over quite as well. It wasn’t too scary for them, but it was perhaps too boring. The fault is perhaps mine: they watched it fairly attentively until Herbie The Wonder Dog came up for a cuddle, and then they discovered some of the tricks he was willing to do in order to earn popcorn treats. So that did pull them away from the movie a bit. They were also taken by surprise by its ending – not the content of it, but the timing. And though I hadn’t remembered it being rather short, it is – only 76 minutes, and that’s counting credits. So we may have to try again next year to really give it a fair shake because this movie is quite beloved and dare I say almost cult-worthy…although, is that just among adults?

Jack Skellington (“Is he made of sticks?” Jack asked, and I didn’t exactly want to say bones, so I called him a skeleton and that seemed to appease him) is the pumpkin king, a resident of Halloween Town, where every year they put on a lavish but repetitive display of ghoulish horror. Jack Skellington is bored. So when he finds a clearing in the forest with portals to other holiday towns (and don’t you wish we’d gotten even a glimpse of some of the others?) you bet he opens up the most alluring and steps into the wonder of Christmas Town.

Now, very likely there are residents of Christmas Town who are every bit as bored of doing the same old thing every year as old Jack Skellington is, but we don’t hear from them. Instead we watch Jack’s eyes go round as he is mesmerized by all the merriment. When he eventually returns home, he conscripts Halloween Town’s citizens to put on their own Christmas…but a bunch of ghosts and monsters don’t quite pull off the winter wonderland of Jack’s vision. And the ways in which they get it wrong are quite endearing. Until they kidnap Santa Claus (Sandy Claws, as they mishear the title) and Jack steps into the role clad in trim red velvet suit. (“I’d punch him right in the nose,” says little Jack, quite perturbed by the Santa imposter).

Tim Burton has said that it was a shopping mall that sparked the idea for the film – watching as the Halloween merch gets taken down the day after the holiday and immediately replaced with Christmas stuff (of course, that was back in the 90s when we still had a modicum of decency…today both holidays exist commercially in tandem, as early as August).

Our kids may not have been big fans of the film, at least not yet, but there’s something about it that appeals to many others. Matt, Sean and I are headed to Disney World in a few weeks and we’ll witness Magic Kingdom go from Mickey’s Not So Spooky Halloween to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, literally overnight. And the great thing is: Jack and Sally, rarely seen in the parks otherwise, make special appearances over this holiday time. Disney Land’s Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare before Christmas makeover, and you can purchase specially themed ears to match, and treats too of course, because Disney is a master at getting you to part with your money.

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The Nutcracker And The Four Realms

You’d think I’d have more of an affinity for this, as I once played Clara myself, in a school production. But I suppose any kinship I felt with the role died when I saw film-Clara flopping around in one sumptuous, gauzy, beaded gown after another, while I spent the whole play in a floor-length flannel nightgown.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) has recently lost her mother, Marie. She is further aggrieved to find that the “one last Christmas gift” her mother has left each of the children is for her rather useless without a key to open it. Her godfather (Morgan Freeman) would seem to hold the answer, but just as she finds the key at his home, it is squirreled away (or perhaps I should say moused away) into a parallel world – into which of course she follows, without a second thought to the state of her beautiful dress, which she clearly doesn’t deserve.

Anyway, this other world is apparently one of her mother’s making, imaginatively speaking. There are four realms, and she meets 3 of the 4 regents right off the bat: Shiver (Richard E. Grant) of the Land of Snowflakes, Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) of the Land of Flowers, and of course the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) of the Land of Sweets. These three regents worship Clara as the daughter of their beloved Queen Marie, and wail upon learning news of her death. They confess that the Queen has not been around in sometime, and these 3 realms are at war with the fourth: Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) of the Land of Amusements.

Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley, using a grating Mickey Mouse voice and sporting drag queen eyebrows for unknown reasons) explains that they can use Marie’s machine, which turns toys into people, to win the war, but they need the key. Yes, the very same key that Clara is already hunting, the key stolen by the legion of mice and now in the possession of evil Mother Ginger. Clara must retrieve the key with only the help of a kind nutcracker named Philip (Jayden Fowara-Knight).

The Nutcracker is of course famously a ballet, and there is but a single scant scene of dance, starring the ephemeral Misty Copeland, which is probably the best stuff in the movie. The rest is really nothing special. It’s almost as if, the more they inflate it with CGI effects, the more magic leaks out. It’s drained of the life and wonder you may have come to expect from The Nutcracker. This one is clunky – often quite mesmerizing to look at, but the directors are depending on literal hypnotic focus on the visuals since the story, which diverges wildly from cannon, just doesn’t hold up. It’s almost amazing how unexciting a land of imagination can be made to feel, and I wouldn’t mind if co-directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston both had their directors cards revoked for such a failure. It’s toys come to life: the wonder is baked right in!

The Nutcracker has been around since 1892 and now accounts for 40% of a typical ballet company’s annual revenues. It’s been done to death in both movies and television: Barbie did a version. The Care Bears did a version. Mickey and Minnie did a version. Tom and Jerry did a version. And they were ALL more successful that this one, which cost over $120M to make, but you can’t put a price on heart, and this movie just didn’t have it.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it was 1998, and we thought they were pretty good, but looking back, it’s 100% cringe. What were we thinking?

It’s hard to even imagine a world in which Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the middle brother from Home Improvement, could break out into movie stardom, but Disney did right by its ABC stars, making Tim Allen the voice of Buzz Lightyear and Thomas the voice of Simba. In fact, if you watch I’ll Be Home For Christmas, also a Disney movie, closely, you’ll see some similarities to Lion King. Thomas plays Jake, a college kid who’d rather go to Mexico with his girlfriend than home for the holidays. His girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel), however, is more family-minded, and Jake’s father (Gary Cole) bribes him with a Porsche. So suddenly Jake is motivated to get home for Christmas, but a rival for Allie’s affections gets in the way of things. Jake comes to in the middle of a desert, and the scene closely mirrors Simba’s own desert scene, down to the turkey vultures squawking at him.

Jake is wearing a Santa suit, and finds that his beard and hat are glued to him. He has no Jake-Wilkinson-763712money, and since it’s 1998, no cell phone. He does know people’s phone numbers though, which is weird, so he’s able to call people collect from a gas station payphone. Nobody comes to his rescue. So now he’s got a cross-country road trip to make, relying on the kindness of strangers, in order to get home by 6pm on Christmas Eve and claim the keys to the Porsche.

Thing is, Jake is not exactly the kind of guy who inspires kindness from strangers. He’s well known for his sweet-talking but he’s a flake and he’s selfish, so he wears out his welcome quickly. Jonathan Taylor Thomas does his best Christian Slater impersonation throughout the movie, and it never, not once, works for him. But since the rest of the cast is also rather talentless and annoying, I guess it blends in?

This isn’t exactly a classic Christmas movie, and it probably won’t win any new fans – basically, unless you had JTT centrefolds from Tiger Beat magazine on your walls as a kid, you’ll probably never get around to this movie, and that’s totally fine. On the other hand, it’s probably the only Disney movie with the world ‘butthole’ in it, so maybe that’s something?

 

Magical Christmas Ornaments

Marie is feeling sad and kind of Grinchy after a bad recent breakup. So her mother is sending her gifts in the mail – ornaments that were special to her in childhood. Yes, not coincidentally, these are Hallmark keepsake ornaments, visibly branded. This is an 87 minute commercial.

Marie is not your typical Hallmark heroine. They usually cast from a very narrow set of cookie-cutter qualities. They all look like the girl next door – attractive, but not glamourous, not intimidating. Approachable. Not high maintenance. Marie, however, looks like she might have some adult films under her belt. So it’s a littleMagical-Christmas-Ornaments-hallmark-movies-40840833-450-325 unbelievable when the wholesome, blandly hunky nurse next door Nate starts to fall for her. Of course, she tries to scare him off. Her reasons are sound, and many: if they got together and it didn’t work out, it would be awkward in elevators. And the mail room! Okay I lied, those were all the reasons. And keep in mind the fact that they lived next door to each other for 6 months before they “met” because she’s always so phone- and self-absorbed. The woman’s best acting is not falling down the stairs in heels.

Anyway, you guys are super smart, so you’ve noticed from the title that these aren’t any ordinary ornaments. They’re magic! Marie’s mother is sending ornaments that put ju-ju out into the universe. Are they predicting events or are they making them happen? No, it is not simply coincidence, god, I can’t believe you even brought that up, where the heck is your Christmas spirit?  How rude! Get your head out of the snowbank and pay attention! These are magical ornaments. They look like shitty, dusty Hallmark remnants from the 1980s, but trust me, they have special powers.

Do your ornaments pulse with magic? Probably not. They probably have little metal hooks, or else a ribbon, and some will have glitter. Are some of them special? Are all of them special? Tell me about them as a palette cleanser so I can pretend I never watched this movie.

Angela’s Christmas

Some people believe they’ve seen a stone statue cry tears of blood. Others think they’ve seen Jesus in toast. This is the story of Angela, a little girl who thinks that the baby Jesus in her church’s nativity scene looks awfully cold, underdressed in his manger. She sneaks in to rectify the situation, which is how her sneeze has members of the congregation believing that the baby Jesus has caught the sniffles and has come to visit his germs upon them (or something like that, but very holy and earnestly felt). And if that had been the entire story, this review would be very short. But the thing is, Angela snatches the baby Jesus in order to warm him up. She is sincere in her good intentions, but this is still the theft of the lord we’re talking about – and on Christmas, no less.

Angela’s Christmas is an animated Netflix original, just 30 minutes, perfect for family viewing around the holidays. It’s adapted from Frank McCourt’s children’s book, so MV5BMDRiY2Y0NDYtODViNi00NWQzLWE2M2YtNjc4N2U4NjkzZjQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkwMTM0Ng@@._V1_SX1238_CR0,0,1238,999_AL_presumably this is the very same Angela of Angela’s Ashes (McCourt’s mother). If you’re at all familiar with McCourt’s work, then you know it’s got plenty of Irish authenticity, and so does this little film.

Like all of McCourt’s work, the details are so terrifically rendered that they will inevitably bring a tear to my eye. This is a very sweet film that can’t help but please all audiences. Perhaps you’ve got a lump of coal where your heart should be? No? Well then add this to your holiday viewing list. It’s pure and innocent, and it’ll put a little coziness where you need it most. Angela’s Christmas is the anti-dote to all your holiday cynicism. There are no gifts, no turkey, no reindeer, just childhood innocence and the warmth of family. And that’s really all you need.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Last year you fell in love with clutzy, Conversed Amber as she met and became betrothed to her prince, since crowned King Richard. This Christmas, Amber and Richard are to be married with all the pomp and circumstance that befits a king and queen.

The only problem is, Amber doesn’t want any of it. Not the ostentatious event, not the fishbowl lifestyle of a crowned queen. The only other problem is, nor can they afford it. Despite Richard’s best efforts at modernization, phony baloney Aldovia is bleeding money and the out of work peasants citizens are angry.

So on the one hand, there’s a gay caricature of a wedding planner (think Martin Short in MV5BMjIwMTE1ODAyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMyMDY3NjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Father of the Bride) trying to steamroll Amber’s wedding into some poufy-sleeved thing she’d never want and doesn’t recognize. And on the other hand, she’s foregoing her bachelorette party in order to follow a journalistic hunch and stick her nose where the press secretary has specifically forbidden it.

As corny and awful as A Christmas Prince was last year, this year’s is so much worse. I mean, it’s not even a romance, it’s like Spotlight for people with no intellect or shame. And in a year with not one but two actual, real royal weddings, broadcast all over the world in their regal, swoon-worthy glory, there was not even a hint of reference to either. Harry and Megan Markle, despite actual royal protocols to follow, still managed to impress us with more romance and personality than this film does, and believe me, A Christmas Prince: The Royal wedding takes liberties literally every damn where else.

There are bad movies, and then there are bad Christmas movies, which truly does deserve its own pepperminty category of its own. There’s a moment, for example, when an unexpected guest arrives, and the 6-8 people in the room are all surprised, so the camera gives them each a close-up-shocked-face moment. I honestly didn’t know those even existed outside soap operas. And they shouldn’t.

Anyway, for a movie literally called The Royal Wedding, there is precious little time spent on the wedding, and it’s hardly royal. The dress is horrendous and Amber’s hair is constantly a complete mess. Not only does Aldovia not have a royal hairdresser, it does not appear to have a royal brush. But the genius in Netflix’s line of Hallmark-esque holiday is movies is that they’re so dumb they make us feel smart for mocking them while watching. Like the first, there are horsies and cookie montages, but there’s a lot less sparkle and a lot more business. In other words, plenty to mock.

Elliot The Littlest Reindeer

In fact – spoiler alert – Elliot is not  reindeer at all. He’s a miniature horse who lives on a petting zoo. His best friend is a tin can-eating goat named Corkie. But Elliot dreams big. The petting zoo is attached to a reindeer training centre, a ‘farm team’ from which Santa drafts his 8 reindeer each year. Elliot does his best to train along with them, though the other reindeer laugh and call him names (will reindeer never learn?).

Luckily, Blitzen announces his retirement 3 days for Christmas, and Santa decides to hold elliot-the-littlest-reindeeropen try-outs for all the aspiring reindeer stars. Elliot and Corkie have to do some fast-talking and some fairly amateur cosplay to even get him in the gates. But Elliot is fast and surprisingly agile. Is he actually a contender? And even if he wins, is it possible for a miniature horse to be accepted onto Santa’s team?

This is a cute little movie that’s sure to please young children. You can tell it’s a Canadian production because it likens the reindeer team to a hockey team – the two great pursuits of the north. The voice cast includes Morena Baccarin, Josh Hutcherson, John Cleese, Martin Short, Jeff Dunham, and Samantha Bee. Packed with cuteness and with a protagonist the whole family can get behind, why not add Elliot The Littlest Reindeer to your family’s holiday rotation this year? It’s got a one-day only cinema engagement in the following cities December 2nd, and will be available on VOD as of December 4.

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