[REVIEW] ‘The Forgotten Carols’

One of the hardest parts of 2020 has been the halting of most live performances and the closure of Broadway. As much as I love movies I equally love live performances whether plays, musicals, orchestras, recitals whatever. Fortunately, as we are waiting for the world to get vaccinated from COVID 19, we have been bequeathed a number of live performances in movie form to help tide us over. Early in the summer we got Hamilton on Disney Plus and now in movie theaters we can enjoy a new filming of the holiday favorite The Forgotten Carols.

Since it’s first release in 1991 The Forgotten Carols has sold over a million tickets all over the world. It is perhaps most popular among Latter-day Saint audiences but it is perfectly appropriate for any Christian to enjoy. It is written by composer Michael McLean and he plays the leading role of Uncle John in this production.

The conceit of the musical is John is an eccentric angel who makes it his mission one Christmas to cheer up a cynical nurse named Constance (not Connie as she reminds him). As she cares for him he tells her the stories of the ‘forgotten carols’ or people who testify of Christ’s birth. Some examples are the Innkeeper who regrets his actions towards Mary and Joseph and extols the audience to ‘Let Him In’. Another is the plucky angel who inspires Handel to write his Hallelujah chorus.

If you can’t tell The Forgotten Carols is an unabashedly religious experience. If you aren’t a Christian this probably isn’t the show for you. However, it is nondenominational so you do not need to be of a particular faith to enjoy it. In this version they have updated it for a 2020 audience with winks to uber, alexa and other products they didn’t have in 1991, but for the most part if you are a person who likes boisterous faith-based music and shows you’ll enjoy this show.

In fact, as someone who will watch over 100 Christmas movies and specials in 2020 it is refreshing to watch one film that’s actually about Jesus and the importance of His birth. The songs in The Forgotten Carols are theatrical and full of pageantry but my theater starved heart needed every last note! My particular favorite number is ‘I Cry the Day I Take the Tree Down’. It gets me every time!

This production was staged in Cedar City in September of this year in a socially distanced crowd and the whole thing had an urgency and poignancy that we all need right now. You can purchase tickets to a safe theater or purchase the DVD here.

For the right audience I recommend The Forgotten Carols.

8 out of 10

 

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are having a great December. I have been up to my eyeballs in Christmas movies and creating content over at Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed to both to get my latest thoughts on many films!

Fortunately I have had the chance to watch some movies outside of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like content). Here are some quick mini reviews of some recent releases

Fatman

Obviously this film is not made for me, the Hallmark fan. However, I’m up for darker takes on holiday films but shouldn’t they still be fun? This film was so unpleasant and spurned campy action in favor of gritty realism, which was a very strange choice. Mel Gibson and Walter Goggins are taking the material seriously and giving good performances but it’s all too serious. Again aren’t most people expecting a campy action film with a wink at the camera? Not a mean spirited gritty Santa action movie like Fatman is? No thanks.

3 out of 10

Godmothered

As soon as I saw the trailer for Godmothered I was greatly looking forward to it. It looked funny and charming. I love movies like Elf and Enchanted, which it seemed to be falling in line with. Unfortunately the actual film, which debuted on Disney Plus, proved to be disappointing. In fact, watching it made me appreciate both Elf and Enchanted a lot more. They are both more than fish out of water stories but have good scripts that make you laugh throughout. Godmothered had one joke- amateur fairy Godmother in real world- and that’s it. And the movie is nearly 2 hours which felt way too long for what it is trying to do. Jillian Bell has yet to win me over in a role and Isla Fisher isn’t given much to do besides look tired. If I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have stopped watching it after about an hour. It’s proof concepts aren’t enough. You have to have good scripts

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Modern Persuasion

I have seen a lot of terrible adaptations of Jane Austen particularly of the made for TV variety. Oftentimes they are only adaptations in name only and have none of Austen’s charm and sass. It is for this reason I approached the new adaption of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion hesitantly. However, I watched it because it stars Alicia Witt who I enjoy and have actually had the chance to interview here. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It doesn’t have a huge budget but I liked Alicia Witt in the lead and Shane McRae as her counterpart. The supporting cast is funny with Bebe Neuwirth stealing every scene she’s in. I’d buy this on digital when it comes out. It’s a charming new take on a classic story.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

All My Life

I actually got to see All My Life safely at the Megaplex theaters and being back at the theaters may have helped my experience but this is a movie that is exactly what you think it is going to be. If you watch the trailer and this brand of emotional weepy makes you grown don’t watch it. If it looked appealing you’ll like it. The stars Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr have great chemistry and the sense of community they have with their friends was comforting and nice to see (especially in isolated 2020). The characters could be better drawn and it’s extremely predictable but I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I Hate New Years

As big a fan of Christmas as I am, I’m not much into New Years. It’s such a couply holiday with the big kiss at midnight that I’ve never gotten much into it. This makes me the perfect candidate for I Hate New Years and for the most part I enjoyed it. It’s limited budget shows at times in both the acting and production but it has its heart in the right place. Particularly the second half won me over and I was rooting for the characters to find happiness. It’s a sweet and likable way to ring in the New Year!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think

Is Peanuts Going to Streaming a Problem?

Everyone knows I am the Queen of Christmas. In fact, even though it is barely the first week of November I have already watched 2 dozen new Christmas movies. You can find my thoughts on all of these films over at The Hallmarkies Podcast where we cover all things Christmas!

The only problem with this podcast is I don’t have much time to watch the classic Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. There just isn’t enough time in the day to watch everything I want to.

However, one program I always make time for is the Peanuts Holiday Specials– particularly A Charlie Brown Christmas. Not only is this short animated, which gives it an edge in my book, but it’s quite possibly the perfect treatise on the value of Christmas. Poor Charlie Brown worries about the commercialization of Christmas and what changes his mind? Well, finding a little tree that only he believes in and Linus reciting Luke 2 from the Bible. It doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me.

Recently it was announced the specials would not be airing on ABC for the first time since their creation in 1965. Instead you have to see them on the streaming service Apple+. While they are offering them for free for anyone who wants to view them, I can’t help but feeling this is a loss for all of us Christmas movie fans.

Hearing Linus recite Luke 2 is one of the last remaining vestiges of faith left on network television. It was an event every year that brought us together to celebrate Christ and His birth. Now everyone will be watching in their own time and space, which is great, but particularly in 2020 I am lonesome for shared experiences of faith. If we can’t go to church surely they could have left us Linus and Luke 2?

Hopefully we can still gather with our family and friends and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas together this holiday season. It may not be a world-wide broadcast but at least it will be a gathering sharing the importance of the season. I’m up for it and I hope you will be too!

What do you think? Is the loss of the Peanuts Specials to Apple+ a loss or just a sign of the times? Let me know in the comments section

 

[REVIEW] ‘Season of Love’ LGTBQ Community Get a Quality Christmas Romcom

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).

season of lvoe

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.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Last Christmas’ and Why It’s So Disappointing

last christmas

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).

last christmas2

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).

3 out of 10

frown

 

Pottersville Review

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.

Blind Spot 12: The Ref

ref3For 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.

MSDREFF EC002Their 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.

ref4Lloyd’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.

My Top 10 Christmas Carol Films

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:

http://smilingldsgirl.com/2010/12/21/christmas-carol/

Anyway, my top 10 Christmas Carol Adaptations

a_christmas_carol_the_musical_advertisement10. 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.

A_Christmas_Carol 20099. 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.

blackadder poster8.  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. Scrooged_film_poster7.  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.

magoo theater actor6. 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.

mickey blu-ray5. 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.

christmas-carol-1999-patrick-stewart-scrooge-desmond-barrit-ghost-of-christmas-present4. 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.

scott scrooge3. 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.

Muppet_christmas_carol2. 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.

1951poster1.  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!

Rankin/Bass 6: Twas the Night Before Christmas

night before christmasNext 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.

night before christmas6

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.

night before christmas7Unfortunately 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!

night before christmas4So 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.  night before christmas2It’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.