Tag Archives: holiday movies

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.

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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.

North Vancouver 🦌  Vancouver 🦌 Langley 🦌  Thunder Bay 🦌 Winnipeg 🦌  Calgary 🦌 Toronto 🦌 Edmonton 🦌  Regina 🦌  Scarborough 🦌  Halifax 🦌  Niagara Falls 🦌  Oakville 🦌 Guelph 🦌 Montreal 🦌 Barrie 🦌  Sudbury 🦌 Cote Saint-Luc 🦌  Windsor 🦌 Peterborough 🦌  Ottawa

The Christmas Chronicles

Kate Pierce is reviewing videos from Christmases past. Her father’s in all of them but he won’t be there this year, and the family’s taking it hard. Her older brother Teddy’s been acting out in dangerous ways and her mom is overworked and stressed out. When Kate’s mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) gets called in to work on Christmas Eve, she leaves the kids in a house that feels emptier than it should, but with a video that contains more than it has any right to. Just before a video cuts out, someone’s arm is seen placing a gift beneath their tree. Kate is ecstatic: proof of Santa, caught on tape! But the video is vague and an arm is not really enough, so she begs her brother to pull an all-nighter to collect more evidence.

MV5BMTYyNDE4MjI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTc4NDY2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Long story short, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) end up as stowaways on Santa’s sleigh, which causes a derailment (I don’t know the technical term for throwing a sleigh off its course while flying through the air), and a crash, and the loss of Santa’s magic sack of toys, and the temporary misplacement of the reindeer. Catastrophe! Santa (Kurt Russell, in absolute bearded glory) isn’t too happy on a whole lot of fronts, but he recognizes in Kate a true believer, so together they concoct a plan to save Christmas.

The Christmas Chronicles involves police chases, gang activity, Elvish, jingle bells, literal jail house rock, and an archive system to die for. And like any good Netflix original, it has a scene of someone watching some other Netflix original. But mostly it has Kurt Russell, who brings everything to the role. Like me, you may be a little bit squeamish about our dear Kurt Russell playing Santa. Is it really the time in his career for this? Worry not. This is not the rosy-cheeked, elderly Santa that Coca Cola is pimping (in fact, this Russell’s Santa is particularly peeved by that depiction). Russell’s Santa is a little cooler, a little leaner, but he’s still 100% magic, and that’s what counts.

Here in Ottawa, we’ve already had frostbite warning and record snowfall, and it isn’t even winter. What we need on cold nights such is these are great holiday movies to warm and soothe our souls. And while this one isn’t an instant classic, it’s a pretty decent entry into the catalogue.