Tag Archives: holiday movies

All I Want For Christmas Is You

Do you believe in love at first sight? Have you experienced it yourself? I do because I have – four times. That’s how many dogs I have, and that’s how it was each and every time. Two pieces of the same soul recognizing each other, and one of us being small enough to jump into the other’s arms. Now I have four little pieces of my heart running around my house and the factor by which they brighten and add to my life is practically immeasurable.

All I Want For Christmas Is You is a sweet little animated movie based on the very popular Mariah Carey Christmas song, the one that every radio station in the world plays ad-nauseum starting in November. In fact, this year, 25 years after its original release, it reached #1 on the billboards, giving her her 19th hit (only behind the Beatles, who have 20). That’s how popular the song is, and has remained, year after year for a quarter century. It’s the first holiday track to top the Hot 100 chart since The Chipmunk Song in 1958.

So who could blame her from trying to capitalize on it, just a little? Well, a little more. This movie is based on the children’s book she published earlier. It’s about a little girl named Mariah who desperately wants a puppy for Christmas, and has for years. Her parents always eschew the idea; apparently, her father is allergic. But this year she’s even more determined because she’s spotted the perfect specimen at her local pet store, a poo-chon she’s already named Princess, who will be the perfect accompaniment in the school’s charity doggie-daughter fashion show.

Instead her dad brings home Jack, a mangy mutt belonging to her uncle and in need of some pet-sitting over the holidays – a test of sorts. Jack is scruffy and wild and gets into lots of trouble, but little Mariah is the perfect caregiver, determined to earn Princess and prove herself worthy.

It’s not exactly a Christmas classic, but perhaps a nice little addition to your family viewing party, particularly if your family includes some of the four-legged variety.

The Christmas Calendar

When Emily’s grandmother passes away, she quits her job as a lawyer and returns home to run her fledgling bakery. Emily (Laura Bell Bundy) quickly learns that keeping the bakery going is likely to be an uphill battle, especially when esteemed French pastry chef Gerard (Brendon Zub) opens a competing bakery across the street (this town isn’t big enough for the both of us!).

Not to worry though: Emily’s got a pretty decent distraction going on. Some anonymous suitor dropped off a Christmas calendar to her bakery, and each day she’s drumming up business by opening up a little door to find a hand-written love note inside. The town’s women are swooning over them, the town’s men are laying bets, the town newspaper is following the story, but nobody knows who sent it. And don’t go assuming you know either, just because the secret admirer and the sexy French baker arrived in town on the same day. Purely coincidence. And the townspeople agree because every time they discuss potential admirers, a whole bunch of walk-on characters are mentioned but Gerard is constantly, conveniently left off the list. And Emily’s not going to jump the gun and find out too soon – this little mystery is good for business.

The leads are not charmless but you’ll notice that ‘Brendon Zub’ is not exactly French sounding and, well, neither is his accent – but it does manage to come off as unintentionally sinister. For a movie about competing bakers, there is a curious absence of food porn. None of the bakers ever bake. They do, however, handle the food barehanded and sell stuff that’s fallen on the floor. But perhaps it’s the editing that is most baffling. One moment the two bakers are feuding, the next they’re feeding each other truffles. Even considering the typical phony will they-won’t they of a Hallmark Christmas movie, this film feels like it’s missing a very important 15 minutes from the middle. Or maybe it’s the script, which sounds like it was written by someone raised in a locked closet. But no, let’s be real: the worst part is definitely that accent.

 

 

To cleanse your Christmas palate, here is my niece Ella, a 4 year old in pre-kindergarten, and her cousin Jack, 5 (nearly 6, he would want me to tell you), a kindergartener, both in the same class at school, singing you a little song – in French 😉

As you can see, Ella wisely abandons the deadly choreography while Jack makes it his own (pretty sure he ad-libbed the dabbing). Both are pestered by older brothers.

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

Part of watching and enjoying Home Alone is letting go of all the improbability and nonsense and just taking the film as it comes. My 6 year old nephew Ben watched it recently and had this to say about it:

We watched it too, and Sean reviewed it himself, though less adorably. I’m sure you know its premise: it’s about an 8 year old kid named Kevin (Macauley Culkin) (in the first take of the above video, Ben called him “Cameron” and I think it’s really funny that in the 30 years since this movie was released, it is now more common to know a Cameron than a Kevin) who accidentally gets left behind at home when his whole family takes a European vacation. His mother (Catherine O’Hara) struggles to get home to him while Kevin has quite an adventure thwarting two burglars (Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci) from terrorizing his house. You really have to stretch the imagination to allow for an 8 year old’s prank assault on two hardened criminals, and his family’s supposed inability to have virtually any adult in the entire city of Chicago check in on him. But it’s fun.

Home Alone did such voracious box office that they couldn’t help but come out with a sequel. Now, it’s fairly common to leave a kid behind. My mom was vigilant and caring but with 4 daughters and a mini van that was often brimming with extra hangers-on, I myself was left behind as a kid and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one (were you? have you done it as a parent?). I was peeing when they left and wasn’t too distressed to find my family had disappeared. I knew right away what must have happened and didn’t panic. I’m sure my family came back for me within minutes. But I bet it’s even easier to forget a kid now, with parents splitting duties with different cars and different destinations. It happens. But really, has it ever happened that someone BOARDS A PLANE AND LEAVES THE COUNTRY without their kid? I realize this was pre-9/11, but there were still security measures. You still had to check your luggage and have your passport checked and your boarding pass printed and your carry-on scanned through security. How did they continually not notice their youngest was missing? The one that writer John Hughes has repeatedly pointed out is a troublemaker, a constant thorn in almost everyone’s side. Wouldn’t the silence have been a dead giveaway?

Anyway, Home Alone 2 asks us to believe that it has happened again. The very next year, Kevin’s family plan to spend Christmas in Florida. Kevin gets as far as the airport but is separated from the group but is somehow not missed. And wouldn’t you be extra vigilant after the first time? And despite airport security being a general thing, Kevin doesn’t just get left behind but in fact manages to board a flight to New York. And then has a whole vacation, checking himself into a swanky hotel with his dad’s credit card and going to town on room service. And if your incredulity was already meeting its limit, get this: the very same criminals who tried to rob him last year have just been released from prison and are headed for – you guessed it – New York City, which Kevin, though just a 9 year old boy, must defend with a very similar set of elaborate pranks, frankly enough to kill just about anyone and yet somehow not enough to discourage these two dimwits even though there isn’t a heist in the world that’s worth this aggravation.

This movie strikes me as incredibly dated, though I love seeing all these weird little relics of the past – a carbon paper credit card imprinter, a hotel room key that’s actually a key, a cameo by Donald Trump that nobody boos.

The thing that I feel is unforgivable? Kevin’s family have had a whole year to rehearse him in emergency protocol. Last year they were unprepared. Kevin could have made one call to a grandparent or a family friend or the goddamned police, and been done with it. Again, in New York, he decides to take on criminals himself rather than asking a grown-up for help. How dumb is this kid?

Home Alone 2 takes no chances, it simply replicates the first movie almost exactly, sometimes line for line, scene for scene. It’s more a remake than a sequel, but what the heck, give the people what they want!

[Note: Disney+ has announced plans to reboot the franchise. Jojo Rabbit‘s breakout star, Archie Yates, is set to star (not as Kevin McCallister, but as another neglected child), and Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney are also set to appear.]

[And another note: check out more of Ben’s reviews on Frozen 2 and Detective Pikachu.]

All Is Bright

I’ve been watching and reviewing all manner of holiday movies for this site for several years now – how did I miss one starring Paul Rudd? And Paul Giamatti? And Sally Hawkins?

Dennis (Giamatti) is fresh out of a 4 year prison sentence and returns home to find that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has moved on, and his young daughter thinks he’s dead (of cancer – “You suffered,” his ex informs him, not entirely without glee). This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. Well, the first part. I think the dead part was a bit of blow. But anyway, he’s not got a home he’s welcome in and no money in his pocket and since it’s only about a month before Christmas, there are no jobs to be had either. “Live off the land,” his parole officer counsels him, super unhelpfully. His only option to earn cash “on the up and up” is by partnering with his friend Rene (Rudd) to take some nice Canadian Christmas trees down to New York City to sell them at inflated prices.

There’s a few problems with this: first, the Christmas tree margin isn’t much; also, earning money the honest way is hard; and lastly, and perhaps more importantly, Rene is the one schtupping is wife. Does it make it better or worse that Rene loves her, plans to marry her?

New York City isn’t super friendly to them, but then again, they aren’t overly friend to it, either. They live like bums on a street corner they’ve claimed for their little tree operation, but as two barely reformed criminals, they don’t exactly have a lot of business savvy. Their only friend is Olga (Sally Hawkins) who’s barely an upright citizen herself.

Although undoutedly set at Christmas, All Is Bright is lacking in the cheer department. It’s not happy or wholesome or merry or, well, bright. It’s bitter and broken. Dennis is a grumpy, unlikeable guy – perfect for Giamatti who grumbles about looking deranged and unwashed. Rudd, on the other hand, slips easily into the role of charming French-Canadian able to sweet-talk almost anyone into almost anything. But his earring signals something a little douchy, and indeed the films wants and expects us to root for Dennis and boo Rene even though they’ve cast Paul Rudd, America’s Sweetheart, in the role. It’s not the easiest ask.

I’m not sure I really liked this movie. For me, it’s hard to pair the holidays with such cantankerous despair. And their redemption? Not exactly heroic. In fact, I’d say they’ve not only learned very little, but cemented their positions on Santa’s Naughty List. You might find it worth a watch only for the two strong performances, but they’re not enough to save a meandering, aimless script.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

I feel like a bad Canadian for even thinking this, but the truth is, I don’t like Jim Carrey. Well, to be fair I’ve never met the man; what I mean is, I don’t like his schtick. I don’t like his over-the-top, cartoony performances. And since he’s playing an actual cartoon character in this, How The Grinch Stole Christmas never really had a fair chance with me, never mind the fact that it skewers a venerated classic film that I grew up idolizing.

Jim Carrey plays The Grinch. He’s green, he’s hairy, and he’s very very mean. Except a little Whovillian named Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen) sees the good in him – wants to see the good in everyone – and nominates him to be Christmas cheer captain. He is coaxed down the mountain to accept his prize and things actually go fairly well – he gamely stuffs his face as Fudge Judge, wins a potato sack race, and is submitted to carol after carol after carol. But there’s at least one Whovillian who can’t quite accept his presence: Grinch’s childhood bully and current mayor of Whoville, Augustus Maywho. Maywho gives him a gift meant to humiliate and remind The Grinch of what caused him to flee up the mountain in the first place. With plenty of Whovillians joining in the laughter, The Grinch is once again flooded with shame, and this time he vows revenge. Just one catch: little Cindy Lou isn’t quite ready to give up on him.

Tim Burton was attached to direct this for a long time but eventually the studio settled on Ron Howard, who does his best to deliver something Burton-esque. It’s not nearly as dark as Burton would have gone (in fact they got out of their way to establish The Grinch as a sympathetic character) but Howard steps out of his comfort zone in terms of visual style. Whoville becomes a smorgasbord of Christmas cheer; there’s eve a machine gun that helps Christmas be vomited all over town. It’s an abundance that’s hard to ignore: production counts over 8000 ornaments, exactly 1938 candy canes, 152 000 pounds of fake snow, and 6 miles of styrofoam used to create sets. Sean and I actually saw some of these sets on the Universal backlot tour, just behind the Bates Motel from Psycho. During production, Jim Carrey put on a dress and grabbed a knife and ran screaming from the house, scaring the pants off a bunch of tourists who failed to recognize him at the time. Otherwise his days were pretty miserable, spending 2 hours to get into costume, and another hour just to get out. The latex suit was covered in yak hair dyed green. But when you watch the movie, you’ll appreciate just how many other character underwent extensive hair and makeup routines. This movie actually has the most extensively make-upped and costumed cast since The Wizard of Oz – 443 costumes were created by wardrobe, and on busy days, 45 make-up artists were working at once. So if I’m not exactly giving Jim Carrey credit for a job well done, I do think production design (art director Michael Corenblith and set decorator Merideth Boswell) deserve some accolades, along with costume designer Rita Ryack, plus hair stylist Gail Ryan and make-up artist Rick Baker who received his 6th of 7 Oscars for this film

Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Tim Curry were considered to play The Grinch, and I think we should all spend at least 10 minutes today thinking about what those movies would have looked like. The truth is, Jim Carrey is probably a good choice for the role. Who else could pull off a costume that essentially has The Grinch running around “naked” a lot of the time, his private area conveniently covered by a suspiciously large tuft of hair. Jim Carrey and Ron Howard both wanted to make a very kid-friendly movie but thanks to studio interference, there’s a bit of raunchiness in the film that may surprise you. The love interest between The Grinch and Martha May (Christine Baranski) is surprisingly sexual. In fact, it’s safe to say that those Whos are pretty pervy, generally speaking. But there’s lots of base humour and visual gags to get you through, and very small children probably won’t pick up on lots of the adult-oriented stuff. Still, it may be hard for those of us familiar with the original made-for-TV movie to really embrace this one. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is probably best left to the kids.

 

Holiday Rush

The day after Thanksgiving, Rush Williams (Romany Malco) is up early like always to host his popular morning NYC radio show. At 5am he’s already fielding texts from his daughters for their Christmas lists which looks like “pony!” and “Prada bag!”. Are his kids spoiled? Well, they actually seem pretty sweet, but the four of them are used to a certain lifestyle and their expectations correspond to it. Plus, son Jamal just got into Harvard.

So it’s a really, really bad time for Rush to have lost his job, but that’s exactly what happens. Bad news waits for no one. And those kids are NOT pleased about their come down in life. As they move out of their lavish home and into the small house they grew up in, now occupied by Aunt Jo (Darlene Love), and plan for a scaled-down Christmas, dad Rush hears a lot of grumblings.

Meanwhile, Rush and his producer Roxy with the cool hair (Sonequa Martin-Green) scrape together just enough money to buy their old radio station, the one where they got their start. It’s small, but it’s theirs, an opportunity to build the show and the station they’ve always wanted. But the new owners at the old station aren’t making it easy, threatening the advertisers, hoping to turn off their lights before they play a single song.

At the risk of losing all credibility, the truth is I believe this Netflix holiday movie is a cut above. The script is almost always my biggest side of beef with these things but in the case of Holiday Rush, it’s no beef, it’s beef wellington, it’s roast beef, it’s prime rib. Settle down, Jay. Prime rib may be reaching. But it IS charming and smart, despite being written by two white dudes. And the acting is uniformly good, an impressive ensemble propped up by excellent, never obnoxious kid actors, convincing chemistry between Malco and Martin-Green, and Darlene Love is the icing on this gingerbread house, a real treat that we all deserve.

Meanwhile, Holiday Rush earns a little bit of extra integrity by addressing grief over the holidays, something so many of us deal with but often try to suppress. There’s a lot of pressure to be jolly over the holidays, but it’s a time of family, friends, and traditions which often make loved ones’ absences be felt more keenly. The truth is, grief can and must exist alongside joy. You can miss someone even as you welcome in someone new. Living, and enjoying life, is no disrespect to someone’s memory. The movie’s acknowledgement that grief can be part of a holiday normalizes it for us, gives us permission to feel two things at once and not beat ourselves up about it.

And of course there’s some heart-warming bullshit about making Christmas less consumer-y. How many Christmas movies will it take to convince us? “It’s not what you have, it’s what you have around you.” Absolutely true. But I’d also take the pony.

 

Last Christmas

Emma Thompson writes a holiday rom-com inspired by the music of George Michael? Can. Not. Compute.

Kate (Emilia Clarke), having recently recovered from a major illness, is sort of spinning her wheels in life. A weekend job she took in a year-round Christmas store has turned into a permanent position. Singing at auditions isn’t bringing her joy. She avoids going home because her overbearing mother Petra (Emma Thompson) is a piece of work and maybe wishes Kate was still sick. She’s just going through the motions, sowing some oats, not being a very good friend or daughter or sister or employee. Not being very good to herself. Still, she’s a little embarrassed that her negligence resulted into a break-in at the store. Her boss, Santa (Michelle Yeoh), has a brusque exterior but is decent and kind at heart. This is your wake up call, Kate, even if she doesn’t yet know how to answer it.

Around this time, two mysterious men show up in or around the store: one for Santa, and one for Kate. Kate is curious about Tom (Henry Golding) but not overly attracted to him. Still, they start spending a lot of time together, and he grows on her, not least of all because he’s someone she can confide in. He listens to her, wants the best for her, helps her restart her life. He’s the perfect guy, basically, with a whimsy to him and an irresistible smile.

You might say the trailers are a bit misleading but we should have known that Emma Thompson (who came up with the story along with husband Greg Wise and co-wrote the script with Bryony Kimmings) wouldn’t be responsible for a run-of-the-mill rom-com. If you divorce yourself from the concept, I think you’ll find the film is actually pretty worthwhile. And can we just have a moment of appreciation for cinematographer John Schwartzman who seems to have lit a movie entirely with Christmas lights? Magnifique!

I straddled a line with this movie – I hate to do Christmassy things too early in the ‘season’ – for me, Christmas doesn’t really start until December 7th, and I don’t like to do anything much before December 1st. Of course, having this site forces me to watch holiday movies far in advance of that, so I’ve only just seen Last Christmas despite its November 8th release (of course, wait too long and it may no longer be in theatres). It didn’t fill me with the Christmas spirit, though that’s not offered as a criticism – it did satisfy me as a movie-goer. Talented actors play flawed characters who don’t normally populate romantic films, yet they still deserve their happy endings. Small bits of politics are kneaded artfully into the dough. But even if the batter tastes familiar, this ain’t no cookie-cutter Christmas movie.