Tag Archives: holiday movies

El Camino Christmas

El-Camino-Christmas-featureI count Die Hards 1 and 2 as two of my favourite Christmas movies, so I’ve seen a hostage situation or two play out on-screen during the holiday season. But El Camino Christmas proves that not all hostage situations are created equal, mainly because not all cops are Bruce Willis. Some cops are Dax Shepard or worse, drunken Vincent D’Onofrio (who is either a very good actor or has a serious alcohol problem, or maybe both). El Camino Christmas is the opposite of a how-to hostage negotiation video, as things start bad and somehow get worse.

With Dax Shepard involved with the film, I expected some dumb comedy but El Camino Christmas seems to not even be trying to be funny. And if it was trying, well, it failed miserably.

On the “plus” side, if you have been suffering from Tim Allen or Jessica Alba withdrawal, El Camino Christmas will give you a shot of both. Neither needed to be here but they both showed up anyway for a little Christmas green. Really, why not say yes, when Netflix is throwing money at everyone else?

Some of those other Netflix originals have been pretty good but El Camino Christmas is not even middling.  It’s a totally predictable, cliched, and boring film.  It’s not the least bit entertaining, not even unintentionally. There is really nothing to recommend about El Camino Christmas. It is bleaker than a stocking full of coal, so just watch those Die Hards again instead. Especially if you can catch the dubbed for TV versions for the true holiday experience. Yippie-ki-yay, Mister Falcon!

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A Christmas Prince

This movie is so fabulously, unashamedly horrible I want to go into an eggnog-induced coma after slitting the throats of all involved with reindeer antlers and mistletoe whittled down to shivs.

It is EVERYTHING you know it will be, every damn cliche in exactly the right order. An American editor-wannabe-journalist for an unimportant magazine is for some 7ab3c50a33e196331a602d78c376a5996e35266breason sent to a fake European country for her first big assignment to cover some royal crisis. Last year on Christmas the king died, leaving his throne vacant. It should rightfully go to his son, who never wanted it. He’s spent the last year being a shitty playboy millennial across the globe and but he’s only got until Christmas this year to claim the throne or risk it going to his cousin, who actually wants the job and only seems to be marginally less a dick than Prince Richard.

Meanwhile, Amber’s big, serious journalist tactic is to lie her way into the palace and pose as a tutor to Richard bratty little disabled sister and then surreptitiously take pictures of the royal family with her iphone while wearing Converse to prove she’s quirky AND relatable AND out of her depth! And she’s accident prone, the plight of all beautiful heroines because it’s the only flaw that doesn’t cause ugliness. Of course she falls for the Prince because not only is he blandly white boy handsome, he’s also kind to orphans! But her lies are quickly snowballing and she’s also not very good at her job so her cover could be blown any day now – especially with a conniving Lady Something or Other trying to make sure she’s the next crown Princess, no matter which dude becomes King.

I know you’re wondering this so let me get it out of the way: YES, there’s a makeover. Yes there are horses. Yes there’s a cookie baking montage.

So get your ass in gear, A Christmas Prince isn’t going to watch itself! Then come back here and use the comments section to roast, roast, roast.

Daddy’s Home 2: A Bad Dads Christmas

I made up the subtitle to this film, but the sentiment stands. Just like A Bad Moms Christmas, Daddy’s Home 2 takes a middling comedy and churns out a sequel that nobody wanted or deserved, and sets it during the holidays just to ruin one more thing while they’re at it.

MV5BZmZiNjE1YWMtNzZhNy00OTdkLTk4MWQtNTUxM2U5OWJhNjdhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjA4MDAzNTg@._V1_Brad and Dusty are in a pretty healthy place since we left them in the last movie. They’re successfully co-parenting their collective brood. But when the kids complain that two Christmases tend to halve the joy rather than double it, they plan a “together” Christmas that will likely be the death of them all – especially because their dads get in on it too.

Will Ferrell’s dad is played by John Lithgow and Mark Wahlberg’s dad is played by Mel Gibson and together they got one single laugh out of me, and spoiler alert: it’s the same exact laugh from the trailer. There’s just the one in the whole damn movie. The fact that the other audience members laughed at all made me wonder if they weren’t all ringers, plants Paramount to trick me into thinking this was a slightly better film than the piece of complete crap it is. I’d rather get coal in my stocking than this movie on Blu-Ray.

 

Dreaming of A Jewish Christmas

Earlier this week we learned about the man who invented Christmas with a little novel he wrote called A Christmas Carol. This time we’re learning about the men and women who helped give it a distinct sound: Jews who wrote Christmas carols. It might seem like an odd pairing, but Jewish songwriters wrote about everything, so why not the biggest holiday of the year? Sure it’s a Christian day, but if you didn’t need to be in love to write a great love song, what’s stopping you?

Irving Berlin, a Russian Jew, was perhaps the greatest song writer who ever lived. He made a living out of writing songs, so to ignore popular holidays was just bad business. He wrote White Christmas; Bing Crosby’s version went on to be the best-MV5BYWExOWMzOGYtY2Q1OS00NjE2LWIyM2UtMjhlNmU5N2E3OTljXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTYzMTcyNTg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_selling single of all time. It also served to “de-Christ Christmas”, restyling the birth of Jesus into a holiday about snow that also evokes nostalgia for home and for childhood, concepts we can all relate to.

To further illustrate the point, the film maker uses another Jewish Christmas tradition, the Chinese restaurant, to bring the greatest hits alive. As the two largest non-Christian immigrant groups in America, they had an understanding of what it took to get through a holiday they didn’t really participate in, and they redefined it for each other.

Winter Wonderland

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Silver Bells

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Sleigh Ride

Let It Snow

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Rockin Around The Christmas Tree

Do You Hear What I Hear

Once Irving Berlin had broken the mould, many Jewish song writers made contributions to the Christmas cannon. And the thing about any song that makes its way into pop culture is that it’s kind of universal. These songs, departing from mangers and baby messiahs, created a new mythology, one of snowmen and red-nosed reindeer – a version of Christmas we could all share in. This documentary explores the hidden stories behind many of these oft-recorded, beloved songs and gives them a context I (and likely many of us) have never considered.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

Anna and Elsa ring the bell to mark the beginning of Arendelle’s yuletide season, their first since the gates have reopened, but then the crowds disperse, leaving the Frozen ladies to contemplate their lack of holiday traditions. Moved, their good buddy and everyone’s favourite snowman, Olaf, goes off in search of other people’s customs in order to find the right ones to adopt.

Originally Disney planned for this to be a televised episode but as production continued they felt it was too “cinematic” and deserved to be on the big screen, which is how it wound up in front of Pixar’s Coco. It’s only the second time that a MV5BMTg0MDc1ODY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODg3MTE2MjI@._V1_CR0,60,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_.jpgnon-Pixar short is in front of a Pixar film (the first time, for Toy Story, was the Roger Rabbit short, Roller Coaster Rabbit) but like any blended family, the Disney-Pixar merger has now been solidified, and when better to spend time together than the holidays? In fact, the two do seem to be appropriate companions since they’re both about appreciating different cultures. However, audiences in Mexico were less than thrilled with the “short” (it’s 21 minutes!); impatient to get to the movie that pays homage to their country, they rebelled until theaters dumped the short altogether.

Like Frozen Fever that came before it, the ladies seem to be confronted yet again with emotional loose ends, as it were, which means this short serves as a bridge to the inevitable sequel. And Olaf is evolving too. A kid favourite, the child-like snowman with a sense of wonder has always entertained, but in this short, he’s becoming more thoughtful and self-aware. He’s not just a side-kick anymore. And at 21 minutes, this short has time for 4 new original songs; That Time of Year is a particular stand out, and I was tickled by the mental comparison between Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) knocking on villager’s doors, and Gad doing door to door with the ding-dong song Hello from Book of Mormon.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is fun in a giddy kind of way and fans of Frozen will be glad to revisit their old friends – though I do wonder if the fans aren’t sort of ageing out of the Princess phase by now. But Elsa and Anna still have a long way to go before their healing’s complete, so there are plenty more ways for Olaf to save them, and he’s always going to be enchanting as heck while he does it.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

My bosom is glowing. That’s what we used to call boobies when I was little: bosoms. Pronounced bazooms, of course. My grandmother told us that eating our sandwich crusts would result in big bazooms and I gobbled mine up greedily, and those of my sisters, if they left them.

Is it a digression if I lead with it? Back to my glowing bosom, which is a line I lifted from the movie itself. It’s the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. He’d gotten a taste of success with Oliver Twist and was determined to live 58dd47c10c48e-e2i2h1u1qk5henceforth like a gentleman, but his next three attempts were flops – poorly reviewed, scarcely read. He was really under the gun to write his next best-seller and you know what pressure does to a writer: it blocks him. He pitched a vague idea for a Christmas ghost story to publisher and was laughed right out of the office, Christmas being a “minor” holiday and all. He determined to self-publish and gave himself the daunting deadline of just 6 weeks hence – a release just barely in time for Christmas. The only problem aside from funding was that not a word had been written.

The film follows Dickens (Dan Stevens) on his frantic quest to write a wildly popular novel without the merest hint of a concrete idea. He agonizes over the creation of characters and then is haunted by them, literally. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) mocks his attempts and grumbles when he isn’t given enough lines, or enough good lines. Dicken’s father (Jonathan Pryce) is visiting and provides constant distraction. If you have even a passing knowledge of A Christmas Carol, it’s kind of fascinating to watch its author draw inspiration from his own life and everything around him, turning ordinary things into ideas that have permeated our culture and helped to define how we celebrate our holidays. While director Bharat Nalluri of course takes some dramatic license, the spirit of the thing is largely accurate. 

Dan Stevens is well-cast as Dickens, and it gives me great pains to send any praise his way because I’ve always held a grudge for how he treated Lady Mary when he left Downton Abbey the way he did. But in The Man Who Invented Christmas, he brings Dickens alive, a man for whom his characters were more alive to him than his own loved ones, and though Scrooge et al literally do speak to him (and offer criticism), his genius and vivid imagination are not to be discounted. But if the film merely existed to give us Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, that alone would be enough. About to celebrate his 88th birthday, the man still has performance in his bones. He won his first Oscar at the age of 82 for Beginners, and it is possibly not his last – he’s got 4 movies in various phases of production, including his hasty replacement of Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World. This movie is a perfect example of why Plummer is still in demand. He turns an invented character into a real, flesh and blood man.

A Bad Moms Christmas

Bad Moms gets one thing right: moms get saddled with making the holidays perfect. The cooking, the cleaning, the gift buying and gift wrapping. Christmas, or whatever you celebrate, wouldn’t happen without the women in your life pulling it together. And making the holidays wonderful for everyone else makes it less wonderful for yourself.

They’re called boundaries, people, and they’ll go a long way in making not only the holidays more tolerable, but your relationship with your mother more healthy. Boundaries are a gift you give yourself. For your own sanity, I suggest they be plentiful underneath your tree this year.

Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) are back and they’re “taking back Christmas.” Apparently what we grown women have secretly been missing from the holiday season: dry-humping Santa and getting drunk at the mall. Um, nope. Yet a-bad-moms-christmas-1920x1080-christine-baranski-mila-kunis-susan-10345again, this movie misses its mark with me. I think it’s pandering and condescending and incredibly obvious that was written and directed by MEN. But I’m not a Bad Mom, I’m a Good Aunt. And the role of Good Aunt is really easy: you buy lots of presents, you let them get away with everything three notches above murder, and you give them 100% of your time and attention once or twice a month. Being a mom, bad or not, is infinitely harder because parenting is about the details. So if carving out 104 minutes to sneak away to one of those fancy movie theatres that serve wine is all you can muster for yourself this holiday season, have at it.

The Bad Moms are confronted not just with the Mount-Everest-sized expectations of a season hallmarked by extravagance and perfectionism, but by the presence of their mothers, who are of course overbearing shrews (Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, and Christine Baranksi). I don’t really relate to that because a) my mother dotes on her grandkids but is actually respectful of people’s space – my sisters will literally fight over whose house she’ll be waking up in come Christmas morning, and b) I am, again, a Good Aunt, and not a Bad Mom, which means my mother wouldn’t even notice me over the holidays unless I deliberately walk between her and one of her grandkids. Good Aunts are persona non grata during the holidays; you’ll notice the film never once cuts to a Good Aunt who is relaxing on her all-white couch, sipping spiked hot chocolate, surrounded by very fragile and carefully curated gold ornaments. Holiday movies will have you believe that children are the only reason for the season. And that harried single mothers who, as recently as 6 days ago, have “taken back Christmas” must still provide a home that looks as though Pinterest has tastefully regurgitated Christmas all over it for her darling kiddos.

The magic of Christmas is a hard thing to define and impossible to bottle. So whatever you do to make the holidays special, thank you. And whatever you do to cut corners, good for you. And if you’re desperate enough to make this movie be part of your celebrations, that can be our little secret.

 

My Christmas Love

Uh oh: two minutes in and this Christmas movie is already a Christmas breakup movie. She calls her “employee” (a guy who serves as a hunk on the Hallmark channel, I take it), who ditches his guy friends to console his heartbroken boss in her house on her bed on Christmas Eve.

So there’s also the following classic Christmas issues, compounded with some romantic movie cliches to keep them company: 1. her sister is getting married, and she needs to find mv5bota4ntnlzgmtogfkmy00mzhlltg5m2itzwe4mjk0ntgzngqzl2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodm4mjyxma-_v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_a +1 before the new year 2. her employee is going to be alone for the holidays so he gets invited along to her dad’s farm 3. her mother is recently deceased and it’s the first Christmas without her.

So now we’re 5 minutes into the movie, and I ask: is there a single person among us who CAN’T predict the agonizing ways in which this is about to unfold?

The rest of her family isn’t quite feeling the spirit, but she’s going to plod along, talking quickly and pooping Christmas as she goes. Her hometown is crawling with cheek-dimpled ex-boyfriends that make her “strictly platonic employee” not jealous at all. Oh, and every day a lady in an old-timey bonnet shows up to sing a verse of 12 Days of Christmas, and gifts her with the turtle doves or the partridge or whatever. So fun, right? And totally original. But she reframes it as a “romantic mystery” so basically she doesn’t get out much.

This movie aside, I’ve had a lovely little holiday, and now I’m passing time at work watching whatever crummy Christmas movie I can find on Youtube while wearing Christmassy dino socks and dreaming about leftover pie at home. Hope your day has been good too.

An Even Grumpier Guide to Christmas Movies

Last year I lamented the fact that there were no wobbly card tables in the perfection that is Christmas movies, and I bravely bore through a heaping pile of excrement just to tell you that these movies really are as bad as we all thought. This year I find myself doing more of the same, though with perhaps a somewhat easier attitude, in part because I’ve made it a game.

I’ve embraced the cheese by developing a bingo game out of the very cornball 20161221_074245scenarios that used to make me want to ream someone with an unripe banana. Now when a workaholic refuses to acknowledge the meaning of Christmas, I rejoice: it’s by B12, or my I23. Hallmark movies are particularly fruitful for the purposes of Christmas movie bingo, although Matt achieved his high score by watching only Love Actually, and It’s A Wonderful Life.

If you’d like to play along, here’s some of the crap I’ve been watching this year

Christmas Trade: Basically, Billy Baldwin gets Freaky Fridayed.

The Christmas Card: The trifecta of American puke. At Christmas. With Ed Asner.

A Christmas Melody: The script may have been written by reverse-engineering my Bingo card. Bonus cheese: co-stars Mariah Carey.

Uncle Nick: Lewd and gross and pervy, and not in a good way.

Bad Santa: Ever want to see a Gilmore Girl debase herself?

Office Christmas Party: Not as bad as some, but no Christmas goose.

The Kid Who Loved Christmas: Nothing like a dead mother to brighten the holidays.

My Christmas Love: An insult to the intelligence of the common blobfish.

 

If you’ve watched a particularly atrocious holiday movie lately, feel free to leave some link love in the comments. Could you score a bingo with any of them?

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The Kid Who Loved Christmas

A troubled kid is adopted by a family at long last. The husand is a musician who checks in by phone when he’s on the road; his wife (Vanessa Williams, circa 1990) is a doting mother at home.  This could be little Reggie’s best Christmas ever.

But wait: tragedy strikes! Vanessa Williams dies in a vague car accident, which means the kid that just got a mommy now has a dead mommy. For a minute it untitled.pngfeels like her death is just an excuse to have Della Reese belt out Amazing Grace in a church, but have a little faith, folks: Eddie Murphy wouldn’t have produced just any Christmas TV movie. Her death is also an excuse for evil family services to swoop in and revoke the adoption (a single father is unstable!), which in turn allows us to see a little boy penning this heartfelt letter to Santa:

Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is my Daddy.

Love, Reggie

Daddy does everything in his power to win back the kid (with a little help from Sammy Davis Jr., true story) but it’s going to take a little bit of Christmas magic for this kid’s holiday wish to come true.

Don’t you just feel vicariously all warm and fuzzy inside?