As the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast I obviously love Christmas movies! While there are certainly misses like Last Christmas, in general I find the genre to be warm, cheerful and just the thing to put me in a good mood. Naturally I want everyone to participate in the joys of the season including finding holiday films they can connect with. So imagine my happiness when I heard about the new independent film Season of Love.
In the film, director Christin Baker makes a rare “queer lady holiday movie” and for the most part she succeeds. The story revolves around 3 female couples and their interconnecting romantic entanglements during the days before Christmas. My favorite couple was between the nervous Lou (Jessica Clark) and the deaf Kenna (Sandra Mae Frank).
The conflict between Sue (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and Janey (Janelle Marie) was my least favorite because it seemed illogical that someone who wants to become a singer would get so mad at her singing being put on youtube lovingly by her girlfriend.
But for the most part Season of Love was a sweet holiday romcom. I felt like I got to know all 3 couples well enough and there were enough cute moments that it worked. The cast is all strong and there is a nice energy behind the entire project. Nothing feels phoned in.
If you like holiday romcoms and are open for something different give a shot. It will be available later this month on VOD and check out their website for more information.
As host of the Hallmarkies Podcast I feel there is an assumption I will automatically love anything billed as a ‘holiday romcom‘. Well, if you are a listener to my podcast you’d know that I dislike many films we review, as is the case with any genre a critic is partial towards. We aren’t doing our job if we blindly like everything presented to us for entertainment.
This explanation is to hopefully help quell some surprise my readers might feel that I did not like the new film from director Paul Feig, Last Christmas. Unfortunately most of the reasons I did not like it are spoilery but let’s just say it fails at both the rom and the com of a romcom (and I have issues with the holiday part as well).
Last Christmas stars Emilia Clarke as Kate, a disaster of a human who has struggled to get her life together after receiving the gift of a heart transplant the year before. She works at a year-long Christmas shop for Michelle Yeoh (who gets some of the only laughs of the film with her strange cabbage loving relationship).
Kate is simply the worst. It’s always a tough dynamic to pull off when either of our leads in a romcom are unlikable. You have to make that switch to nice person at just the right moment or we as an audience don’t want him or her to succeed in love because they are a terrible human being. Kate even outs somebody at one point which I found shocking for a movie in 2019 (and the penance wasn’t near enough for such a betrayal IMO).
Henry Golding is super dreamy (of course) but he leaves for long unexplained stretches, which hurt the chemistry and seems especially bizarre as the plot reveals itself. Speaking of said plot it is so groan-worthy and leaves our heroine with a very unsatisfying ending. Without spoilers let’s just say between this and Me Before You Emilia Clarke has the strangest set of 2 romcoms imaginable.
To my surprise, I also felt focusing on George Michael music was a mistake. The problem is he only has one Christmas song so most of the soundtrack is holiday-free. Sure they are surrounded by the trappings of Christmas but they participate in none of the tropes of the genre such as picking a tree, wrapping gifts, visiting Santa, baking cookies etc. Most of what they do could be done at any time of year just with different decor. All the Christmas in the movie feels like window-dressing without the heart the holiday offers these films.
A lack of Christmas spirit and romance makes Last Christmas an unsatisfying and disappointing holiday romcom. What should have been sweet and funny ends up being groan-worthy and frustrating. Too bad but at least I’ve got 100 other Christmas movies to enjoy this holiday season (not exaggerating).
There are some movies that defy description. That you watch and then sit in stunned silence after wondering what you have just witnessed. This year’s Pottersville is such a film. As someone who watched 35 Hallmark original Christmas movies this year as well as films on Ion, Up and other questionable networks, Pottersville is the worst holiday film of the year and one of the worst I’ve ever seen. There is some argument to be made for ‘so bad it’s good’ entertainment but right now I’m just baffled by it and even more baffled that so many great people cosigned to be in it. It’s a festive train-wreck that must be seen to be believed.
Let’s start off with the fact that one of the great actors working today, Michael Shannon, leads this film. He stars as Maynard Greiger a simple general store manager who goes home one day to find out his wife has become a furry because country life is boring. Let that sentence sink in…
I have no problem with furries to be honest. Whatever people like to do in their free time is fine with me but the way this movie uses them is so weird and mocking in tone but then sincere is perplexing to say the least. They somehow got Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman to play the furries! What on earth?
The devastated Maynard then decides to spice up his life by dressing up and becoming Bigfoot, which sends the town into a flutter. I repeat- what on earth? (And he drinks from a pee fountain at one point).
Then Thomas Lennon shows up as Brock Masterson, host of a Bigfoot hunting reality show and it is so bizarre. He flails about the forest with a bad Australian accent and it seems like he should be a crazy person but he’s not. He’s just in this movie. There is one scene with him defecating outside while talking to one of his producers that goes on forever. The attempts at physical, mad-cap comedy are so bad it defies description. I just couldn’t believe this is a thing that was made by top tier talent?
There is also the Christmas aspects to the film, which are bizarre. Like how about the many references to It’s a Wonderful Life? Because that’s the first movie I think of when making a list of silly holiday comedies. Also the ever-present strange holiday soundtrack that is surprisingly traditional for such an anarchist movie. And I’ve seen about 10 ‘save the ____’ Christmas movies this year but this expects you to feel warm and fuzzy about this ‘Bigfoot’ sighting literally saving the town when its dilapidated town mill becomes a tourist attraction. What on earth?
Pottersville is one of those movies that is very difficult to rank because it is so bad it is fascinating and must be seen by all. Do I rank this over a mediocre bad movie like The Emoji Movie? Pottersville is worse than Emoji Movie but it is worse in more interesting ways. People were trying to make a holiday classic and it failed spectacularly where nobody was really trying to make a great movie with Emoji.
The only thing I can think to compare it with is last year’s 9 Lives but this is even stranger narratively. I just don’t know what to say or how to adequately describe this film.
It is available on Netflix so watch it for yourself and see what epically bad movies can achieve.
By the way check out my podcast on Hallmark movies I’ve been doing with my friend Amber. I’m super proud of it.
For my last blind spot review of 2016 I thought I would pick a less popular Christmas movie to go with this festive time of the year. I decided on the 1994 comedy The Ref starring Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey.
The Ref is about a couple, Lloyd and Caroline, near divorce (Spacey and Davis) who end up getting held up by robber named Gus (Leary). The couple is so hateful to each other that Gus becomes a kind of substitute therapist for them.
Their son Jesse is a malcontent going to military school and blackmailing his chief officer. He hates his parents just as much as they hate each other.
Lloyd’s family comes including his mother (Glynis Johns) and sister in law (Christine Baranski). Gus pretends to be their therapist and continues to give all of the family his guidance, as they are hateful as well. They have a very unusual Santa Lucia dinner that was pretty funny. The last act really comes together where each of the characters kind of learns their lesson.
In some ways watching this movie reminded me of the recent Edge of Seventeen. Both are very well done for what they are trying to be. Both have well writtenh scripts and good acting and both made me laugh on occasion. However, both are about such thoroughly negative people that I found the experience kind of exhausting. I guess I just don’t love movies about unlikable people- no matter how well executed. I admire them but it’s still not my favorite kind of film. In some ways this felt like a David Sedaris piece with this acerbic cynical take on traditional family values.
Nevertheless, if you are in the mood for something different at Christmas than The Ref might be a fun choice for you. It would particularly be a good choice if your family is driving you crazy. You might realize they aren’t so bad after all!
Overall Grade- C+
The Ref earns its R rating with language, lewd dialogue and some mild violence.
Merry Christmas Eve you guys! I thought I would share with you all my top 10 favorite versions of Christmas Carol.
Of course if you followed Scrooge Month last year you know I love Christmas Carol. It’s one of my favorite books and it’s hard to make a version I dislike (although not impossible. I’m talking to you Ghost of Girlfriends Past).
What I love about Christmas Carol is the message of redemption, which is the true message of Christmas. There are no lost causes and that is because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is the lesson which Scrooge learns and I find it very moving. In the end it is a message about hope and that’s what I want to see around the holidays. I write more of my thoughts of Christmas Carol in this blog post:
10. Christmas Carol: A Musical– Not a perfect film but I think worth a watch. I like the music from Alan Menken and some of the fleshing out of the character of Scrooge is a cool take on it.
9. Disney’s Christmas Carol– I know a lot of people don’t like it but I do. There are silly moments but I appreciate the emotion they get right and how accurate it is to the book.
8. Black Adder Christmas Carol- This hilarious special subverts the Scrooge story by convincing a poor sap to be bad instead of good! The writing is so on point and had me cracking up especially anything with the Queen of England. Great performances from Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Jim Broadbent and more. 7. Scrooged- a comedic version of Christmas Carol that pokes a lot of fun at media and particularly network TV. It’s definitely a lose adaptation but it makes me laugh and has good performances throughout.
6. Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol- This is the only Mr Magoo I have seen but I like this version. The animation is beautiful with a Hirschfeld quality to it and the music by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill elevate the special higher than it might otherwise be.
5. Mickey’s Christmas Carol– A fun exercise for Disney having their characters playing other characters which we would see again in Prince and Pauper and a few other shorts in the 90s. This does a great job introducing kids to the Christmas Carol story. My only complaint is I wish they had made it a feature film instead of a short because a lot is left out.
4. Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart version)- One of the most accurate versions with Patrick Stewart perfectly capturing the Scrooge described in the book. Extremely well made especially for a made for TV movie and includes scenes almost always left out, which I appreciate like the Lighthouse sequence.
3. A Christmas Carol (1984)- I have a few little nitpicks with Scott’s accent and the music but other than that a great version. Scott is great in the emotional scenes and the production feels earthy like what you imagine London might have been like in the 1850s.
2. Muppet Christmas Carol– The best version by far for kids IMO. You have Gonzo sharing a lot of the text from the novel. Michael Caine plays it straight with the Muppets and is believable in the more intense moments. I love the songs and some of the more creative touches like having Statler and Waldorf play Jacob Marley. Their song is great! My favorite Muppets movies are when they take on literature. This and Muppet Treasure Island are actually my favorite Muppet movies.
1. Scrooge (A Christmas Carol 1951)– Starring Alastair Sim this version stands above the rest just on production values alone. The cinematography is stunning, directing innovative, acting from Sims and others is wonderful and I appreciate some of the creative risks they took. They flesh out Scrooge’s backstory a bit without taking it too far, which I liked. To me it has everything you could want in a Christmas Carol movie.
I hope you all have a Merry Christmas! Thanks for your support for the blog this year. God bless us everyone!
Next up in Rankin/Bass month is the 1974 short ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. This is a traditional animation take on the 1823 poem of the same name. The poem of course opens with the line ‘not a creature was stirring not even a mouse’. Well, this movie takes that quite literally and tells the story of both man and mouse in the house.
While the animation isn’t the best (particularly the eyes look strange throughout on the characters), this is a really cute entry from the Rankin/Bass team. It basically tells the story of a human cloc maker named Joshua Trundle who works with a mouse called Father Mouse to make the clocks. Unfortunately the mouse son Albert is overthinking Christmas and has written an editorial in the paper claiming Santa is a fraud.
Unfortunately Santa reads the letter and is offended and decides to send back all the town’s Santa letters, both mouse and human, and skip their Christmas all together, which is quite extreme when you think about it but it works!
So the mice must help appease Santa and convince Albert to believe in things he can’t see or explain with science. The plan is quite elaborate where they will build a singing clock that will entice Santa to come to their town after all. Albert eventually see’s the error of his ways and agrees to go inside the clock and repair it. It’s really a sweet little story here. Nothing that will blow you away but it is cute and has a nice message. It’s definitely not subtle but none of these specials are and this one surprised me with the creative storytelling without being too weird. I also felt like they treated Albert’s lack of a belief more kindly than some other more Christian based films might have.
The music is nice and the vocal performances by Joel Grey, George Gobel and John McGiver are all very pleasant. It’s only 25 minutes and so I would give it a watch if you get a chance. Its really adorable.
Let’s talk about our first holiday short in Rankin/Bass month (I’ll try to mix up the holiday and non-holiday). We are talking about Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I have to say from the start this is not one I remember watching as a kid. I remember Rudolph but not this one for some reason. I’m not going to say this was my first watch-through but if I have seen it was a long time ago.
With that said, I will say- this movie is weird. It’s just the oddest assortment of strange story, characters, animation, and everything else. I don’t think that is a bad thing per say but it’s just a bit hard to write about. It’s really a very befuddling movie!
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town aired on ABC in 1970 and it is basically a Santa Claus origin story. Our narrator is SD Kluger (SD for Special Delivery) voiced by Fred Astaire who isn’t given as much to do as you might think.
Basically there is a villain named Burgermeister Meisterburger (a great name!) who hates everything. One morning a baby is dropped on his doorstep and he sends it away to the ‘orphan asylum’ and then the animals rescue the baby from him and the Winter Warlock and then take him to stay with the Kringle Family who make toys. Who knew St. Nick had such grim beginnings!
But luckily the Kringles are sweet and lovely people and Kris grows up and wants to restore the Kringle family as the official toymakers of the King (who knew the king needed such a thing?). So he sets out to make and deliver toys.
Unfortunately Burgermeister has outlawed all toys and basically any other kind of fun. Everything in Sombertown (the name of Burgermeister’s kingdom) is dark and gray and sad. He not only bans toys but declares they are ‘illegal, immoral and unlawful and that anyone who has a toy will be placed in a dungeon!’. These must have been quite the toys!
So that’s sort of the set-up and I won’t give any more away but it involves the magic of the Winter Warlock and Kris Kringle’s attempts to circumvent Burgermeister’s crazy laws. In the course of the story you find out origins for Santa’s name, his relationship and marriage to Mrs Claus, presents under the tree, Christmas trees, going down chimneys, December 24th for presents, flying reindeer etc.
I could see someone really roasting this movie. It’s just so nutty but I enjoyed watching it. It’s only an hour so it didn’t wear out its welcome and did surprise me with the strange choices. The ending is very odd in that Santa doesn’t really save the people from Burgermeister. His family rules for generation until the townsfolk come to their senses. That’s more than a little disturbing if you really think about it…
The voicework by Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn and Paul Frees is all fine and fun to hear but nothing too special.
The music is a bit of a letdown with nothing that stood out for me. Songs like ‘No More Toymakers to the King’ and ‘First Toymakers to the King’ weren’t anything special and ‘If You Sit on My Lap Today’ made me a little uncomfortable. It’s just odd for Santa to be asking kids to ‘be prepared to pay’ for sitting on his lap.
So overall it is an odd trippy little film but I enjoyed watching it. Have any of you seen Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Have you watched it recently? Let me know what you think. Thanks!
Hey guys! I just wanted to announce my Christmas series I am doing for my blog. Last year I did Scrooge Month where I reviewed 35 different versions of Christmas Carol. I thought long and hard about what to do for this year and decided it would be fun to talk about the Rankin/Bass animated specials and films, many of which are Christmas related.
Most people will be most familiar with Rankin/Bass stop motion TV specials including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Little Drummer Boy.
I love stop motion so I look forward to seeing all of these shorts again especially the one’s I haven’t seen or haven’t seen in a while.
Most of these films are from the 70s so it will be interesting to see how they age.
They also have traditional animation like Frosty the Snowman including a film I have already reviewed called The Stingiest Man in Town. I will not be reviewing that again.
Rankin/Bass Productions was founded by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass in 1960 in Japan. Many of the starting animators like Toru Hara would go on to work on Studio Ghibli with Hayo Miyazaki.
They were able to keep working with many of the same talent over the years including Maury Laws who did almost all of the music and Romeo Muller who wrote most of the screenplays. Paul Frees was also a frequent voice talent for them.
But over the years they also worked with many great stars including Andy Griffith, Burl Ives, Casey Kasem, Fred Astaire, Art Carney, Red Skelton, Walter Matthau, Danny Kaye and more.
Do you have a Rankin/Bass special that you love to watch around Christmas? I would love to hear about it and I look forward to the series. Like last year I will not be giving grades for this series as it is meant to be a joyful experience and not as critical as I might otherwise be. It’s Christmas for goodness sake!