Tag Archives: Netflix original

Just Another Christmas

It’s like Groundhog Day, but for masochists.

Jorge (Leandro Hassum) hates Christmas. Officially it’s because he shares his birthday with the baby Jesus, and he’s a pretty bad sport about it. Even though he’s a fully grown man now. But he also seems to hate everything else about the holiday too: the food, the gifts, the family. THE FAMILY. Fair to say it’s pretty irksome when he develops some sort of Groundhog Day disorder – or at least that’s the movie they’d love to be compared to. In fact, Jorge is not doomed to repeat the same day over and over; he’s merely only living on Christmas now. That sounds weird, and it is, but the Jorge we know wakes up and it Christmas morning. He’s technically lived a full year between each Christmas, but he never remembers it. He’s aged a year, and so have his wife and kids. It’s a weird amnesia and the Jorge who “wakes” up each Christmas doesn’t approve of the Jorge who makes decisions all year long. That Jorge doesn’t seem to share his same values and priorities, and “living” only one day a year seems to have really put things into perspective for him.

Jorge is not exactly a likeable guy so it’s hard to root for, or know what we’re rooting for. Plus, Brazilian comedy seems to be a little…obnoxious. Leandro Hassum is like Gerard Depardieux at his worst, and even his best is pretty intolerable.

Since Jorge only “wakes up” on (or remembers) Christmas, it’s not exactly a great time to get vital information as to his condition. His wife and kids are busy with preparations, and hosting parties, so we never the full picture. We just wake up as disoriented as he is, and try to piece together what’s happened over the last year based on how things have subtly changed since last Christmas.

It’s an interesting-ish premise but I didn’t enjoy its execution. Hassum is one of those people who confuses yelling with acting. It’s hard to pick up any emotional nuance when everything is shouted. And this particular conceit isn’t exactly condusive to personal growth. Even if he does manage to learn a lesson during this 16 hours of Christmassing, his other self won’t remember it come Boxing Day and will spend the whole year undoing any progress that’s been made. It’s a pointless exercise and it’s not even entertaining to watch. Verdict: sleep through it.

It’s like Groundhog Day, but for masochists.

Jorge (Leandro Hassum) hates Christmas. Officially it’s because he shares his birthday with the baby Jesus, and he’s a pretty bad sport about it. Even though he’s a fully grown man now. But he also seems to hate everything else about the holiday too: the food, the gifts, the family. THE FAMILY. Fair to say it’s pretty irksome when he develops some sort of Groundhog Day disorder wherein the Jorge we know wakes up

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.

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.

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb

James Tovell’s documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb takes us to Egypt where archeologists are carefully digging up the Saqqara necropolis, just 20km away from the more well-known Giza necropolis. Saqqara is the world’s first and oldest pyramid though, and it has many secrets yet to be unlocked.

Digging isn’t the only part of archeology, or indeed the bulk of it, but it is by far the most exciting, and Tovell wisely nestles us amongst a crew of Egyptian archeologists who have uncovered a tomb untouched for 4400 years and begin to pick it apart, revealing historical artifacts that will astonish their community, and a tribute to a family unit who celebrated each other in life and grieved each other in life.

News of this discovery has lit a flame around the world of archeology and is already heralded as one of the most significant finds in the past 50 years. The team hope to uncover coffins, mummies, and precious belongings buried with the family during the excavation, but what I find fascinating is what the tomb reveals about the family buried there, the family of Wahtye, a priest who served under King Neferirkare Kakai during the 5th Dynasty of Egypt, that is to say, around the 25th century BC or more than 4000 years ago.

The site team is composed of archaeologists, anthropologists, scientists, and diggers discovering unexplored passageways and shafts in a tomb that is remarkably well-preserved. Mummies are always exciting to find – their bones reveal so much about how the people lived, what they ate, what they did for work, and how old they were when they died. But this particular dig unearths more than just coffins and bodies; it contains possibly the world’s first ever case of malaria, a board game played by the elite millennia ago, and the mummified remains of a lion cub, the first ever of its kind.

I think archeology is immeasurably fascinating and this is the site with maximum bang for your buck. You won’t have to put up with the heat or the dust or the claustrophobia as you stream into Egypt via Netflix.

Rogue City (Bronx)

Once upon a time there was an almost romance to rogue cops who believed themselves to be above the law. But as the world rallies and protests against such offending officers in real life, the landscape has changed even if writer-director Olivier Marchal hasn’t yet adapted and his film still attempts to glamourize criminal cops.

Discounting Marchal’s tactless inability to read the room, his film is technically well made but deathly boring. It attempts to follow a thread of corruption between cops and criminals but he quickly loses track of characters and plot and if he can’t keep track, how the heck am I supposed to? He doesn’t give me a single reason to care, and I think his only concern is getting to another action sequence. In fact, I’d argue that his opening sequence is misleading, and not even deliberately so. It makes it difficult to determine who the protagonist is, and the heroes are already indistinguishable from the anti-heroes who are indistinguishable from the villains. To Marchal, they’re all just fodder for his next gun-fight, and while it’s clear he’s got a certain panache for shoot outs, anything and everything in between is basically garbage.

There isn’t a machete in the world to help you navigate this slog-fest or cut through all the bullshit. You need only ask yourself one question: do you value the gun violence enough to sit through the rest?

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.

Operation Christmas Drop

Let the barrage of cheesy holiday movies begin!

Netflix comes out of the gate strong with Operation Christmas Drop, a heart-warming instant classic that might just crack your Christmas Top 5 and start a new holiday tradition at your house.

Haha, just kidding. It’s a total cheesefest, oozing Gruyère faster than a leaky fondue pot.

Congressional aide Erica (Kat Graham) gets sent to Guam over the Christmas holidays to find “efficiency” deficits that will allow her boss (Virginia Madsen) to defund a beachside Air Force base. Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig) gets assigned against his will to escort her during her visit, and by “escort” I of course mean distract and/or thwart her at every turn. The base’s worst kept secret, and the main reason behind Erica’s visit, is Operation Christmas Drop, wherein service members volunteer their time and solicit donations to air drop on the more isolated of the neighbouring islands. But despite this being a truly good-hearted endeavour, leave it to government to see wasted resources instead of humanitarian aid.

Will Erica write the report that shuts down the base? Will under-privileged island kids get their medicine and school supplies? Will the evil American government find a new way to ruin Christmas? And will Erica and Andrew ever think up a solution to their mutual holiday solitude?

Kat Graham is luminous while Ludwig is a miscast lunk. The tropical setting of Guam is remarkably beautiful, even if it’s a deviation from the usual snow-covered small town setting of a holiday romance. The real-life inspirational counterpart should lend this thing a whiff of authenticity, but it’s all just so earnest it’s painful. Although I’m not the biggest fan of these Hallmark-esque Christmas movies, I’ll admit Netflix has had a couple of stand-outs that very nearly transcend the genre. This isn’t one of them. Operation Christmas Drop has Graham going for it and nothing else. The beaches are beautiful but the story is boring and the formula so carefully and precisely toed that you’ll wonder if you haven’t seen it before. You haven’t, and if I were you, I’d keep it that way.