Tag Archives: holiday movies

The Christmas Chronicles 2

In the first The Christmas Chronicles, Kate and brother Teddy had recently lost their father. With their mom covering an overnight shift at the hospital, the kids are alone on Christmas Eve, and devise a trap to catch Santa on tape once and for all. But their trap works a little too well and they soon find themselves on his sleigh and on a pretty epic adventure.

Two years later, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) find themselves on the beaches of Mexico for Christmas, courtesy of mom’s (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) new boyfriend Bob. Kate isn’t thrilled to about a tropical Christmas but she’s even less enthused about her mom tarnishing dead dad’s memory with a new guy. That’s why she resolves to run away, which unfortunately plays right into the plans of disgraced elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), who uses Kate (and Bob’s son Jack) as bait to distract Santa while he makes off with the star that powers all of Santa’s Christmas magic. Big disaster. Huge. Now Santa (Kurt Russell) and Kate will be off on a sleigh-riding, time-traveling adventure while Jack (Jahzir Bruno) and Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) defend Santa’s village from an onslaught of evil elves.

This movie is basically a nerf gun aimed right into the hearts of children and when it hits, it delivers a dose of holiday cheer and joy that’s undeniable. In sequel mode, this one has a little more razzle dazzle and a little less natural charm and sparkle than the first, but it’s still a good, clean, fun time for the whole family. Kurt Russell is a hot Santa who injects more than a little Elvis into the jolly old guy, donning sunglasses and swiveling his hips to belt out another show-stopping tune once again. And rather happily we see much more of Goldie Hawn, who brings her own twinkle to the mix, sweet but pro-active, not exactly the passive knitter in a rocking chair Mrs. Claus is often made out to be.

The Christmas Chronicles 2 is wonderfully, effortlessly cheerful. It has great acting and its attention to detail surpasses even the first, for a glossy look that feels, well, merry and bright. And if it is perhaps pandering and slightly disjointed, well, at least it knows its audience. The exploding gingerbread cookies, gravity gloves, dance breaks, flying jackotes ( jackal-coyote hybrids that look more like giant, extra-inbred pugs), and crossbow battles will all be very well-received by young audiences tuning in to get a second look at this Santa guy who’s so much cooler than the one at the mall. And who can blame them? He is pretty great and I count myself rather unashamedly among his fans.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square

A holiday musical you say? I’m still riding high on Jingle Jangle, so sign me right up. Dolly Parton is my spirit animal, she’s magical unicorns shaking her pretty mane and making the world a brighter place.

Christmas on the Square is about a bitter woman named Regina (Christine Baranski) determined to sell an entire town that she’s apparently inherited from her estranged father. She serves eviction notices to every single person who lives and works there, including her former beau, and when they dare to protest, she moves up the date to Christmas Eve. What a Grinch! No, wait, Baranski was in that, wasn’t she? What a Scrooge! Is that safe? Man this woman is prolific.

As you might guess, Dolly Parton is herself hidden amongst the townspeople, masquerading as the town’s only homeless person but actually an angel in disguise. An angel come to stage an intervention!

Now, on paper this musical has everything I need in order to activate my merriment and good cheer, but on Netflix, it just wasn’t working for me. It’s a very traditional kind of musical, old-fashioned and janky, with campy over-acting and random singing, and set pieces that don’t trouble themselves to feel like anything other than the studio backlot affair they are. I understand it’s been adapted from an actual stage play, but I do expect at least a half-hearted attempt to make it feel more cinematic, and less claustrophobic. But everything feels corny, like a Hallmark movie crossed with your kid’s school Christmas pageant, and deeply phony. I couldn’t get into it, and that’s despite the very welcome invitation from Parton’s glowing songs, and even some pretty nifty choreography.

It wasn’t bad enough to turn it off – or perhaps I just didn’t want the trouble of finding something else – but I sort of wish I’d never turned it on. There’s LOTS of Dolly on Netflix these days, and literally anything else is a heck of a lot better.

Alien Xmas

Holly (voiced by Kaliayh Rhambo) and her parents are elves in the North Pole. In fact, Holly and her mom are – brace yourselves for this – puppy elves! As far as I knew, elves just hammered wood into bulky toys on an assembly line. Manual labour? No thanks. But puppy elves! It makes sense: plenty of people get new pups for Christmas, and Holly and her mom make sure their fur is all fluffy and cute, and they’ve got bows around their necks, doggie essentials for the holidays. I’m making way too big a deal out of this considering it’s a throwaway detail in the movie, but I can’t believe I’d never thought of it, and that I’ve been wasting my life this whole time.

Anyway, Holly’s dad is an inventor elf and he’s been working overtime on a new sleigh that would cut Christmas Eve delivery time by 90%. Except it is Christmas Eve, or pretty near, and his prototype’s still not working. He can’t be with his family, so to appease his daughter he hands her what he thinks is a doll.

In fact, the doll is actually an alien named X. X comes from a race of dull, kleptomaniac aliens who steal everything – and he’s the first wave in attempt to steal earth’s gravity.

It’s a stop-motion sci-fi holiday offering from the Chiodo brothers and executive producer Jon Favreau. Many of us grew up watching iconic TV movies like Rudolph and Frosty, and this is Netflix’s attempt to bring that kind of nostalgic Christmas viewing into our living rooms once again, with a 21st century twist.

The Klepts are aliens who have no longer have any concept of joy, but they take inspiration from humans – humans on Black Friday, specifically, who rush into stores frantically at 4am to buy cheap TVs they don’t need.

The Chiodos worked on the stop-motion portion of Favreau’s Elf back in 2003 (in fact, you might recognize a couple of “cameos”) and they were eager to collaborate on this tribute to beloved family holiday viewing. Like those golden age episodes, Alien Xmas is a tight 40 minutes, but a fun watch that’ll put you in the giving spirit.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again

In the first movie, Chicago baker Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens) traveled to the kingdom of Belgravia to participate in a royal baking contest with her friend and sous-chef Kevin (Nick Sagar). While there she runs into Lady Margaret of Montenaro (also Hudgens), fiancee to Belgravia’s prince Edward (Sam Palladio), and they are thunderstruck by how much they resemble each other. Why not take advantage? Lady Margaret has been desperate to experience like as a “normal person” and Stacy is apparently weirdly obliging, so they switch places, Stacy wasting her short European vacation sitting in a castle while Margaret gets to experience the world outside its walls. Of course we all know what happens next: Stacy falls for Edward, who was never right for Margaret, and Margaret falls for Kevin. By the end of the movie Edward and Stacy are married, and Kevin and Margaret seem to be headed that way as well.

In its sequel, Switched Again, prince Edward and princess Stacy are visiting their friend Margaret in Montenaro where she’s going to be crowned queen on Christmas. Sadly, she and Kevin have broken up, their lives just too different and their goals not aligning, but feelings are still there even if Margaret’s chief of staff Tony is sniffing around. Kevin agrees to attend her coronation “as a friend” but with sparks reignited, Stacy and Margaret agree once again to switch, leaving Stacy to do the boring prep work while Margaret is free to spend some quality alone time with Kevin. But there’s a catch! A third lookalike, cousin Fiona (Hudgens again!) shows up in Montenaro, but she’s not exactly there to lend support. Fiona’s burned through her fortune and looking for more. If she can pose as the new queen long enough to transfer some royal funds, she’ll be set for life.

Can Kevin and Margaret’s love endure her royal duties? Will prince Edward ever get laid? (Did I mention that Edward’s sole purpose this entire movie is to roam around the castle horny? He’s SO horny, which is a dangerous condition to be in when there are 3 ladies who all look like your wife.)

This movie knows better than to take itself seriously. It’s the most outlandish soap opera you’ve ever seen, and it’s set at Christmas! The costumes are gorgeous, the set dressing is over the top, and it feels like almost anyone can marry royalty if you mill around on a cobble stone street long enough. It’s exactly the kind of escapism needed in 2020, and if it’s not a good movie (and it’s not a good movie), it knows what it is and it delivers. You’ll want to check it out on Netflix ASAP.

Happiest Season

Someone literally accused it of being the hap-happiest season of all, but that’s not always the case, is it? Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year specifically for Andy Williams to have something original to sing on the holiday episodes of his show. The song boasts hosting parties, spontaneous visits from friends, universal social gaiety, spending time with loved ones, sledding for children, and roasting marshmallows as prime causation of holiday happiness, but not only do these things not guarantee joy, rarely does a Christmas song mention the other side of Christmas reality. The dry turkey, the overspending, the cranky kids, the ubiquitous pine needles, the dangerous driving conditions, the kids table, the inevitable disappointment. While the happiest seasons are happy in the way described by Pola and Wyle, the worst seasons are distinctly terrible in their own ways. Happiest Season tells us about Abby’s.

Abby (Kristen Stewart) isn’t that into Christmas, but girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is, so Abby makes the effort, pawning off her holiday pet-sitting duties to pal John (Daniel Levy), and spontaneously joining Harper on her trip home for the holidays. Abby’s never met Harper’s family, so this is a pretty big deal. Big enough that Abby plans to propose to Harper over Christmas dinner since the season means so much to her, making it the first of many happy holidays together. Except.

Except it turns out that Harper isn’t out to her family, and she’s been lying to Abby about it. Frantically confessed at the last possible moment, she implores Abby to keep her secret, and to lie about her own sexuality as well, because dad Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor in Homophobe, USA, and we wouldn’t want to hurt his campaign. Actually, it seems Harper’s sisters Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland) also govern their lives in order to best impress their parents. Ted and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) make no bones about expecting perfection, playing favourites, and rewarding success with affection. When Harper arrives, mom Tipper literally says “You get more and more beautiful every time I see you. Did you bring concealer?” And Harper’s the favourite! It’s not a great situation to be walking into, but Abby reluctantly agrees with the fateful line “It’s 5 days – how bad can it be?”

You’ll have to tune in to Hulu on November 25, 2020 to find out just how bad it can be – and then be thrilled, surprised and titillated when it gets even worse.

Happiest Season is a comedy but as a rare LGBTQ holiday romance, it also tells a stark reality: that Christmas (and other obligatory family time) can be really hard on queer people whose families aren’t accepting. Kristen Stewart literally gets shoved back into a closet in this movie, which isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence. Gay members of the family may be forced to suppress foundational facets of themselves, to deny lovers and celebrate separately from partners. And that’s the “lucky” ones who haven’t been outright rejected and ostracized. It isn’t a happy time for everyone, and it gets increasingly unhappy for Abby.

John is the unsung hero of Happiest Season, the friend Abby can call when things get emotionally turbulent, the friend who will always champion her happiness, the friend who will show up for her when things get tough. Daniel Levy, recently named one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive (and how!), is great in this, as he’s great in everything. But truly, this is an ensemble comedy and it succeeds on the backs of many fine performances. Mary Steenburgen plays Icy Snob to utter perfection, Mary Holland is lovably awkward and hopelessly clueless, Aubrey Plaza has a small but sweet part – even your favourite drag queens, Ben DeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon have a campy cameo. But most of all: Kristen Stewart. I do believe even Stewart’s harshest critics (and they are harsh) would have to admit she’s natural and lovely and relaxed in this role, but she’s also able to communicate with subtle signals that she’s going through more than she says. As a supportive girlfriend, she understands this is difficult for Harper, but as a woman with self-respect, she’s uncomfortable quashing her authentic self. While Harper and her competitive sisters are clashing in the kitchen, and at the mall, and right into the Christmas tree, Abby’s conflict is internal. And Harper’s dilemma might feel painfully familiar to some – whether to choose Abby, or her family – and the accompanying fear that in trying to have both she might lose both.

Director Clea DuVall wrote the script along with Mary Holland but they aren’t delivering some gay powder puff Hallmark movie. They haven’t shied away from the tough truths of queer Christmas, but they do manage to pull it all together into something that is as entertaining as it is festive.

A Rose For Christmas

After a series of heart flutters, Big Al is sidelined at his business, so daughter Andy (Rachel Boston) takes over the duties of building a float for this year’s Rose Parade, which jubilantly kicks of the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day. The floats are made entirely of organic material and thousands of roses, so as you can imagine, it mostly comes together in just a few weeks. This year Andy’s building a float for a Chicago law firm trying to grow their global presence, and the big boss sends Cliff (Marc Bendavid) to supervise the build.

Cliff would rather be in the new Asian office, or anywhere else really, but in Andy’s float barn, where he’s attempting a hosile takeover, he’s really just in the way. The two despise each other immediately as they engage in a useless power struggle for supremacy over a team of…oh wait, it’s just the two of them. And that’s a problem. Apparently the solution is to find volunteers, although it’s rather late in the season for that, and Cliff is of course extremely and vocally critical of Andy’s flyer technique, but his corporate recruitment techniques fail miserably, and they’re lucky if a dozen people show up to do the work of…well, apparently many more. And Cliff, still very very firmly holding down the role of Business Prick, insists that only the top 10% are worth keeping. I, meanwhile, am still scratching my head over Andy and Big Al’s business model…they are charging Cliff’s law firm to build this float, yet they have no employees and rely entirely on volunteers who are lucky to be paid in coffee and pizza for literal round the clock work…AT CHRISTMAS. The few volunteers they do manage to snag come with their own set of problems – colour blindness and allergies, to name the most pressing – so there will be lots of opportunity for Andy and Cliff’s managerial styles to clash. And yet somehow also they fall in love.

A Rose For Christmas is a standard Hallmark Christmas movie, but I enjoyed this one nearly 10% more than others of its ilk merely because of its unique setting, allowing me to learn a little about the Tournament of Roses Parade and how it comes together, even if the story isn’t exactly to my liking. When I visited New Orleans I was thrilled to visit the warehouse where Mardi Gras parade floats are made year round (by paid employees), and in Las Vegas I’ve often had the chance to see elaborate floral designs, but the Rose Parade has the distinction of blending the two in a beautiful if provisional display. Everything on the float has to be organic, so in addition to the 20 000 roses (on a single float!), other natural decoration like walnut shells, lima beans, and coconut husks are used as well. Like many things over the past several months, the 2021 Rose Parade is cancelled due to COVID-19 (amazingly, this parade has been marching since 1890 and was only cancelled a few times before, in 1942, 1943 and 1945 for WW2), but you can recapture a bit of the magic with A Rose For Christmas, which uses real parade footage and recreates a float that actually travelled down Colorado Boulevard just a few years ago.

Hometown Holiday

Krista and Ashley are sisters who co-own a florist shop together in their tiny hometown of Rust Creek, but working around weddings and romance all the time hasn’t translated to luck in love for them. Krista (Sarah Troyer) has recently vowed to be more selective about who she dates while Ashley (Samantha Gracie) is pining over a guy she crushed on back in high school. It seems an almost hopeless situation until Ryan (Bradley Hamilton) comes to town.

Ostensibly Ryan is visiting his pregnant sister in Rust Creek but truthfully he’s also got his eye on a potential new client, a local widower turned viral country singing sensation. As an entertainment lawyer, he’s eager to sign Wes Gently (Kevin McGarry) to a big contract and has tracked him down at an event, but Wes is hesitant and will need some wooing. Luckily this gets Ryan into wooing mode so when a stunning local florist (it’s Krista!) working the event asks him to dance, he starts up a light flirtation and a medium-heavy get to know you with her, while routinely stepping on her toes. And wouldn’t you know it, this leaves just enough space for Ashley to swoop in on her high school beau…who just happens to be THE Wes Gently! Is it possible we’re about to have a double holiday romance?

Answer: yes, yes it is. But first we’ll have to suffer through a mild case of mistaken identity, slight interference by a kid, a couple of scenes from Dickens at a local play house, and like all good Christmas stories since the very first, a child is born.

These Christmas romance movies never overstay their 90 minute welcome (this one checks out at 84, and that includes the credits), so there isn’t a lot of time to divide between two blooming relationships, especially when there’s a break because someone’s worried about being used. And like the formula dictates, the physical side of romance is non-existent until perhaps a post-engagement, close-mouthed kiss, which is a crazy yet extremely strict and carefully followed rule. This movie will win no converts but will likely please fans of the genre.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Jeronicus Jangle is a magical, fantastical inventor of “jangles and things” (translation: toys). A new breakthrough that brings a toy to life seems poised to make him an incredible success but while celebrating jubilantly in the streets with his wife, daughter, and nearly the entire town of Cobbleton, the newly animated toy (a matador named Don Juan voiced by Ricky Martin) convinces Jeronicus’ apprentice Gustafson that they should steal the blueprints to all the inventions and strike out on their own.

Twenty-eight Toy Maker of the Year awards later, Gustafson (Keengan-Michael Key) is eccentric and wealthy and about to run out of stolen ideas for toys. Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker), meanwhile, is completely ruined. Gustafson didn’t just steal his blueprints, he robbed him of his self-confidence and of the magic that seemed to inspire his inventions. His wife gone, his daughter estranged, and his toy store now a rapidly failing pawnshop, Jeronicus is dejected, and not even the threat of bankruptcy can jump-start his innovations. However, the arrival of his grand-daughter Journey (Madalen Mills) changes everything. Not only does she share his mind for magic, science, and creating, she’s got something even more important: belief.

Jingle Jangle is a bit of a marvel, to be honest. It’s The Greatest Showman meets Mr. Magorium’s Magic Emporium meets Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Although I loved the film from the minute Phylicia Rashad started reading a fairytale to her grandkids, I was completely sold not two minutes later when a toy store full of whirring robotics and steampunk costumed people break out into song and dance that totally swept me away.

Writer-director David E. Talbert creates a rich fantasy land that is a pure joy to visit. Although it’s not a perfect film, there’s a lot of talent on display. In addition to a truly unique twist on a family-friendly holiday film, Forest Whitaker is a total champ and Keegan-Michael Key is having a blast. Who knew either could sing and dance – or would? Mills is the true star of course; her voice is strong and confident, but so is her soul, and she shines her novice light even opposite legendary luminaries.

From the inspired music to the brilliant production design, Jingle Jangle was a whole lot of fun and I’m both pleased to have a new classic in the holiday genre, but equally pleased that it is holiday-lite, a perfect November (or anytime) watch.

12 Gifts of Christmas

With only two weeks left until Christmas, struggling artist Anna Parisi (Katrina Law) decides to advertise as a holiday personal shopper. It is possible Anna does not have the sharpest business acumen but she also doesn’t have rent money, so she probably should have put a little hustle into her side hustle. Marc Rehnquist (Aaron O’Connell) is a busy ad exec who was supposed to have ordered corporate Christmas gifts for the 100 employees in his office, and apparently doesn’t realize that bulk orders this close to the holidays are practically impossible. Luckily they both patronize the same bakery where Anna’s recommendation of the secret menu cupcakes impresses Marc so much that he hires her to shop not only for his employees, but for his nearest and dearest as well – who apparently aren’t quite so near or so dear that he’s spared them a single thought before now. If it’s truly the thought that counts, Marc usually substitutes thought for expense, sending lavish gifts along with notes apologizing for his absence. But with thoughtful Anna crossing off his list, he’s going to learn a thing or two about priorities and the true value of his time.

12 Gifts of Christmas is about as complex and full-bodied as a bottle of Boone’s but the 2020 holiday season is fast approaching and concessions must be made. Some people are very serious about their Hallmark/LMN/Netflix romantic Christmas movie tradition/addiction, but in our house the annual viewing is a little more reluctant, and not without some grumbling, yet there are indeed some faithful traditions. Sean complaining about every movie set in New York starting off with trite stock footage: check. Then Jay rolls her eyes at the very light attempt at a will-they-or-won’t-they, and Sean’s belly growls at the third cookie baking montage, and Jay’s eyes glaze over at the sight of so many jewelry boxes, and Sean starts to sweat realizing that there are so far zero jewelry boxes under our tree, and we both agree that the only true Christmas miracle in this whole movie is finding street parking in “Manhattan” (Avid Hallmark fans will recognize Eva’s Bakery which has appeared in several Hallmark movies as a New York City location though it’s actually a real bakery in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah).

This movie earns no distinctions in acting or director or production or story. It follows the Hallmark formula loyally and steadfastly, so there are no surprises here, none whatsoever, but if you’re in the market for some banal, PG “romance,” Hallmark’s shelves are fully stocked and you can take your pick.

Holidate

I’m not a Scrooge, but I generally like to keep my Christmas season to about 2-3 weeks total. Both Sean and my young niece share an early December birthday, so I don’t really open the Christmas floodgates until after that, when I can give it my full attention. Many others, including my mother, and my sister (the mother of said niece), are very early celebrants, decking their halls promptly on November 12th (we observe Remembrance Day on the 11th), and would love to do it earlier if decency allowed. Stores unveil their Christmas fare earlier and earlier; they used to wait for Halloween to pass but it is now not uncommon to see wares for both holidays as early as August. Which is when some people start watching holiday movies, according to Netflix. For a longtime the Hallmark channel had a stranglehold on the kind of Christmas movie I’m talking about: the cheesy romance holiday film, low-budget and incredibly formulaic, and yet as much a tradition in some people’s holidays as trees and stockings. Lifetime has gotten in on the action, and now Netflix has too, running last season’s Hallmark movies, and pushing their own Christmas franchises, like the Royal Christmas and Christmas Switch. Holidate, which started streaming on the service on October 28th, seemed early enough to be declaring war on the other sources: “we’re Here, We’re full of good tidings & cheer, Get used to it.” Alas, no. Holidate is only about 10% Christmas, a very tolerable amount even outside of the season, so you can quench your eggnog-equivalent movie thirst with Holidate and not even feel ashamed. Rejoice!

Sloane (Emma Roberts) is fed up by her family’s constant, invasive questions about her marital status – specifically, her lack thereof. Her mother Elaine (Frances Fisher) can’t imagine a fate worse than singledom for her daughter, so you can imagine her ongoing disappointment when Sloane remains in this dreadful state year after year. Christmas is just one among many holidays that prove intolerable to the spinster at the table. So when Sloane meets Jackson (Luke Bracey), a single guy who’s spent too many uncomfortable holidays in the presence of regrettable dates, they seem like a perfect match. They resolve on being each other’s ‘holidate,’ their reliable plus one to holiday-related events but no more, no friends, no benefits. Nothing outside the holidays.

It works pretty great, for a while. They have fun together, even though I still maintain that St Patrick’s day and mother’s day aren’t exactly romantic holidays that require dates, and that Labour Day is hardly a holiday, period. And yet.

And yet the dubious plot is hardly the film’s greatest challenge. Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey have no chemistry. In Roberts’ defense, it’s hard to have chemistry with a cardboard-humanoid Chris Hemsworth replacement product.

Holidate pretends to be self-aware, Sloane rolling her eyes at corny rom-coms that always predictably end in love, which the poster never bothers to hide, and yet the film then unabashedly follows the same formula in all the expected cheesy ways. It would be better to say nothing at all than to call attention to the rules you aren’t about to break.

That said, Holidate isn’t an awful movie. As far as holiday romances go, it’s perfectly middle of the road, exactly the kind of movie that is easily half-watched as you prepare a meal or fold some laundry or wrap some gifts. It probably goes down easier with some wine (like most things, but never more true than with Hallmark-esque movies of a holiday nature). And you can dip into it, guilt-free, in November, or anytime you please.