Every year when coming up with my blind spot picks I try to pick something holiday related for December that I haven’t seen. Given I host the Hallmarkies Podcast that covers holiday films it’s no easy task. For 2021 I decided to go with a film I heard about while watching a special on TCM profiling classic Christmas movies called Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. From 1945 this film stars Margaret O’Brien as a little girl in Wisconsin growing up in a Norwegian-American immigrant community. It’s actually not much of a Christmas movie but I thoroughly enjoyed it!
It has one of the strangest trailers I’ve ever seen…
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is based on a novel by George Victor Martin and I think I will seek out the book because I really liked this old fashioned story. This movie will definitely not be for everyone. It lays on the sentimentality about as thick as possible and it will be too much for some but O’Brien is so cute that it worked for me.
It’s a very simple story about growing up and the ebbs and flows of childhood. O’Brien’s Selma plays with her friend Arnold and they squabble and learn life lessons. One of the best scenes is when she is scolded by her Pa played by Edgar G Robinson for not sharing her skates. He tells her she is a selfish little girl and her expression is devastating. Then you have sweet moments when he takes her see the animals on the circus train. You really get the feeling O’Brien was genuinely thrilled to see an elephant. It’s so cute.
Agnes Moorehead plays her Ma and I’m used to seeing her play more cantankerous characters (especially in Pollyanna which I love. I had no idea she was nominated for 4 Oscars!). This was a nice change of pace and she has great chemistry with Robinson (who also plays against type).
They probably explain it in the book but I have no idea why it has the title it does as there are no vineyards or grapes of any kind in the town. I guess the children and small town life are the tender grapes but it seems like a stretch.
There is also a romantic plot between James Craig and Frances Gifford. She is a city girl who has come to do her student teaching in the small town. He is the editor of the local paper. Will she fall for small town life? What do you think?
In many ways this feels like a precursor to the Hallmark movies of today but with more melodrama. A story about small-town America and the joys and heartaches of being a child in the country. It warmed my heart and I almost wished it was a series so I could keep spending time with these people.
The main Christmas element of the movie is a pageant Selma is asked to memorize a recitation covering the First Christmas. She is so nervous and does so well you can’t help but feel the Christmas spirit from her words. It’s so sweet and heartfelt.
Like I said, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes will be too sentimental for some but I loved it. If you haven’t seen it I recommend giving it a watch.
8 out of 10
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Anyone who follows my content knows how much I love the original Home Alone from1990. I saw it when I was just about to turn10 with my grandparents in California and it was the first comedy I really connected with. The whole premise of a kid being alone and not only getting by but defending his home from bad guys was very empowering and hilarious. I still love it to this day.
Then we got a really solid if familiar sequel in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York which benefited from the presence of Tim Curry as most movies do. By the time the remaining sequels came out I was a teenager and I honestly have still never seen 3-5 but they seemed harmless enough.
Now we have a sequel from Disney on Disney Plus with Home Sweet Home Alone and I was actually optimistic this might help reinvigorate the series. I like young Archie Yates and the rest of the cast looked solid. I didn’t even mind the trailer which most of film twitter immediately rejected.
Unfortunately my hopes were in vain because Home Sweet Home Alone is one of the most misguided remakes of recent memory. It’s as if the makers had no idea what made the original special and make some of the most baffling decisions they could have made.
The biggest problem is they decide to make the focus of the film on the robbers, a couple played by Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney, instead of the young boy Max (Yates). We get a detailed backstory into why they need to break into the Max’s house and we meet their children and find out they might be losing their home. This is not what we want in a movie where we are going to spend a long time basically torturing these 2 individuals. They need to be bad guys who come close to killing Kevin in the original film. This is the only way that type of slapstick is funny.
The other problem is everything is too easy for Max. In the original Kevin struggles both with his traps (which he almost gets caught several times and eventually has to be saved by the old man) and with being alone. He is scared of the furnace and steals the toothbrush because he is afraid of the store manager. This helps us become endeared to Kevin and we feel for him when he starts to miss his family.
In Home Sweet Home Alone, Archie faces none of that. Most of the traps are too elaborate for him to set up- like one where he would have to move an entire trampoline all by himself. You could make that claim about the original but most of the traps were pretty simple like ornaments and nails that a kid could orchestrate. Even when he puts his plan on the chalkboard wall he would need a giant ladder in order to draw all that. In the original it’s drawn on a piece of paper like a normal kid would do.
Some kids may have fun with Home Sweet Home Alone but in this critics opinion they missed the mark. Missed it as far as tone, laughs and especially family heart.
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.
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 many of you know I have been hard at work watching every Christmas movie of 2018 (over 50 new releases already!) for my Hallmarkies Podcast. However, that does not mean I am slacking off on the regular releases. I’m doing the best I can to fit them in as well. I am also still doing monthly obscure animation and Talking Disney over on my other podcast Rachel’s Reviews. We just posted one talking all about Mary Poppins I think you will enjoy.
Anyway, I thought it was about time for another one of my Current Mini Reviews post where I catch you up on the quick thoughts on recent films I’ve seen. Obviously this will not include films like Ralph Breaks the Internetwhere I have a full written review. Let me know your thoughts on these in the comments section.
With such an amazing cast and a great director like Steve McQueen it is difficult to go into Widows without very high expectations and maybe that is part of my problem. While I certainly didn’t hate Widows, I found it kind of frustrating. The writing for the characters isn’t deep enough to be a compelling drama and the heist isn’t fun enough to be an engaging heist movie. Instead it is some pretty camera work and good acting that doesn’t have much to say and was a little plodding. I also thought the lighting on the women didn’t do them any favors. It seemed to me it was being shot to take away their femininity and make them look pasty and ugly which is a very strange choice for these stunning women. Even the love scenes felt very masculine and strange. I guess that could be interesting but it didn’t work for me.
Frown Worthy but other people love it so I guess decide for yourself
93 out of 135
The Christmas Chronicles-
Netflix has stepped up their Christmas game this year and Christmas Chronicles is a really fun entry from them. Starring Kurt Russell as a kick butt, cool Santa who ends up taking care of 2 kids who have lost their father. It was funny and had a nostalgic charm to it. Some of the bits go on a little too long and the thugs are a bit too violent for my liking but it’s a lot of fun. I also thought the elves were adorable.
43 out of 135
While not as fancy as the first Creed film I really enjoyed Creed 2. I enjoyed all the storylines between Adonis and his fiance and him and Rocky. The match-up with the Dragos really worked and I honestly didn’t know who was going to win the final boxing match (and I would have been happy with either winning which is tough to do in a boxing movie). I guess it doesn’t reinvent the boxing genre but what it does it executes very well. I think it’s a little underrated for this year.
19 out of 135
2018 hasn’t had as many indies and anime films as some years but Mirai is certainly one of the standouts. It’s a very simple movie from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy struggling to adapt to a new sister in the house. Through a series of magical realism events he learns about his family and that he is loved and it is thoroughly adorable. The animation is so fun and the message sweet it really works. It reminded me a little bit of Takahata’s Only Yesterday, which I love.
16 out of 135
Pokemon: The Power of Us-
Last year we got a reboot of the Pokemon series with Pokemon: I Choose You and this year we get The Power of Us and fortunately both are solid entries in the series. I Choose You has more stunning animation but the plot in The Power of Us is less convoluted. Either way, I enjoyed both. If you are a fan you have to see it!
68 out of 135
I love stories about friendship and Green Book is a great example of how to do it right. Both men obviously have racial differences but they have many other differences including class, sexuality, tastes and everything else. I thought it was great seeing the 2 overcome their differences and become friends through their road trip. Some people are mad at this movie for not starting a movement or telling the entire black experience. That’s not what it was trying to do. It was just portraying this one friendship and it did a great job. I love both lead performances and the script is excellent. Loved it.
9 out of 135
Every Day has an intriguing premise that probably works better as a book than a movie but I still enjoyed this YA film. The idea is our young girl meets a boy who wakes up each day in the body of another person for just that day. Naturally this makes having a relationship difficult but the overall message about loving who a person is rather than their outward appearance is a good one and all the acting is sincere and sweet. In the world of dopey YA films, this is a solid entry.
56 out of 135
In Instant Family director Sean Anders tells his own story about when he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the challenges/blessings that went along with that. This film is easy to disregard if you are only paying attention to the trailers with pratfalls and cheap humor but I loved it. It doesn’t shy away from how hard adoption and foster care can be but the emotional sections really worked for me. I was balling when I left the theater. I mean ugly, got to compose myself, kind of tears. These kids are out there and they need to be loved but they can be so hard to love. I liked all the performances and when the credits showed the Anders family and all the other adoption and foster care families involved in the film I lost it. It’s really good.
12 out of 135
Illumination Studios is the junk food of animation. They provide commercially appealing, brightly colored films that make a lot of money and are instantly forgotten. Such is the case with The Grinch. It’s not awful like their previous attempt with Seuss, The Lorax, but it’s just super bland and lacking in creativity. None of the jokes landed for me and they change the message from Christmas doesn’t come from a store into loneliness is bad, which is a definite downgrade. It has some nice traditional carols in the soundtrack and there’s nothing offensive about it. It’s just super mediocre and bland.
90 out of 135
Tea with the Dames-
If you are an anglophile like myself you have to check out the documentary Tea with the Dames. It’s very simple. They just gather Dame Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith together to talk about their careers and lives. They have some naughty language and can be very catty but it’s all delightful. It will make you want to call your old friends and catch up.
30 out of 135
I actually saw this Turkish film at Sundance but I thought I would give you my thoughts really quick. Butterflies is about 3 estranged siblings who have to journey to bury their recently deceased father. What follows is a bit of a dark comedy with some poignant moments between the very good lead actors and some hilarious bits. I particularly died laughing every time a set of chickens meets their maker (I won’t spoil it for you but it was LOL).
24 out of 135
I was hoping this would be a silly action movie but I don’t know what they were thinking with this disastrous adaptation of the classic story. Almost every choice from the accents, to the action, to the special effects are terrible. I knew it was going to be really bad when the opening sequence is a long Medieval take on American Sniper...Every performance is either bland or way over the top and the story is so dumb. It’s violent and yet the script expects you to care about these ridiculous characters….
128 out of 135
Robin Hood is the worst of this grouping and Green Book is the best! Some fun times at the movies. Let me know what you think!
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.
It is very exciting we have reached my last Blind Spot pick for 2017. I hope you have enjoyed the 12 films I have reviewed this year and I look forward to picking 12 more for next year. If you have a blog I encourage you to participate in the series and finally check some of those films off your list you have been wanting to see.
Unfortunately it’s too bad I can’t end the year on a more positive note. My pick for this month is a supposed Christmas film called We’re No Angels. This is the original 1955 version not the 1989 remake. I know other people love this dark comedy but it was not for me. I honestly found it pretty hard to get through.
The story is about 3 convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov) who escape from prison just before Christmas. They go to a shop and after spying on their daughter (Joan Bennett) they decide to steal from the family and then escape off of the island. Things get complicated when a snobby relative (Basil Rathbone) comes in and wants to take over the store.
I said in my 3 Billboards review that dark comedies are not my thing and it is true here. I know these men are supposed to be bad guys, convicts, but I found them uncomfortable, awkward, perverted and not the least bit funny. They literally are staring at the family and daughter through a window for a good chunk of the movie. They bicker and are cruel in ways that didn’t amuse me at all.
The only person who worked for me a little was Peter Ustinov who always gives a funny/strange performance. But even he couldn’t save this film because the writing wasn’t good and the characters are so unlikable.
Basil Rathbone’s character is supposed to be a character of ridicule but I frankly thought the 3 anti-heroes were much worse. They are manipulative, cold and worst of all boring. This movie is dull and sorely lacking in charisma or fun. It certainly has no Christmas charm or cheer.
I can see how those that like dark comedies will enjoy it but it was not for me. I really didn’t enjoy it and will never watch it again. The costumes were nice so I guess there is that but I can’t think of anything else to praise.
If this is a Christmas film you love please tell me why you like it. I just didn’t get 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!