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).
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!
Sorry I have gotten a bit behind on my Rankin/Bass month what with that little thing called Star Wars! Luckily they have a lot of non-Christmas specials so I should be fine stretching it into January where hardly any good movies come out.
One thing I’ve learned about these Rankin/Bass specials is they all have a kooky weirdness to them. I don’t know if you notice it as much when you watch one a year like a normal person. At least it is more noticeable watching them in a block like I have been. I’ve been wondering why some of them are weird and work and others miss the mark? I’m not sure but I think the weirdness is better as an embellishment than the whole story. Like in Jack Frost the story was pretty good and so it made it better to have weird touches.
Anyway, The Year Without a Santa Claus is definitely one of their more successful entries and it is also full of strange elements. Released in 1974 it is a stop motion 48 minute special that tells the story of the year Santa decides to stay at home!
Santa, you see, is in need of a break and his doctor tells him to ‘forget delivering presents to those ungrateful kids who don’t believe in you and stay home!’ (amazing how many people in these specials hate Christmas!). Santa listens and Mrs Claus and the elves Jingle and Jangle are horrified (you think he could just take a day off and not the entire year!).
Jingle and Jangle decide to take a young reindeer named Vixen (they both ride the little reindeer like a horse which looks very strange) to find proof for Santa that someone believes in him.
They are stopped in their quest by the Miser Bros’ who rule the clouds- Heat Miser and Snow Miser who hate each other. I liked these character’s designs and behavior.
They end up in a town called Southtown where they try to find anyone who believes in Santa but Vixen becomes sick and nearly dies. Mrs Claus comes and they meet a boy named Ignatius Thistelwhite who doesn’t believe but his father believes.
Then they must go and find Mother Nature in order to convince Heat Miser and Snow Miser to work together so that the town and Ignatius will believe in Santa.
Santa then comes to save Vixen but before that we get a very melancholy version of Blue Christmas sung by a little girl with lots of stop motion tears. Rankin/Bass loves the stop motion tears!
Santa eventually see’s the error of his ways and makes everything right in the end.
I mean come on- you hear that description it’s pretty creative right? It’s wacky and nutty but very creative. In one 48 minute short we have elves, dying reindeer, Santa playing hooky, Mother Nature, Heat and Snow Miser and a girl singing Blue Christmas. That’s great!
There are also some really nice songs with good performers. I like I Could Be Santa Clause, I Believe in Santa Claus, The Snow Miser and Heat Miser Songs, Blue Christmas and Hear Comes Santa Claus. They are all well sung and some of the best writing from Maury Laws and Jules Bass.
At least to me this is just wacky, weird fun:
I also like Year Without a Santa Claus is a little less heavy-handed in its messaging than some of the other Christmas shorts. It is mostly about Santa with a thin message of believing in things and being kind.
The animation is also a little more seamless than some of the other shorts and I really liked the colors in scenes like at Heat Miser’s castle.
Scenes like this are just so nutty and silly:
It’s certainly one of my favorite of the Rankin/Bass specials. Have you seen it? What did you think?
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.
Oddly enough there aren’t very many holiday specials or films for that matter that focus on Jesus Christ- the reason for the season! And that is truly one thing that stands out about the Rankin/Bass film The Little Drummer Boy.
Before reviewing this film I must own The Little Drummer Boy is not a carol I particularly enjoy. It’s nice sung by a choir but I guess I prefer the Christmas songs that I can sing easily by myself and ‘rump a pum pum’ doesn’t work with only one!
That said, the Little Drummer Boy is about a boy named Aaron who has a magic drum that charms his friends a donkey, sheep and camel. The animation is not very fluid in this movie but I oddly got used to it after a while.
Life seems good for him but one night his family is killed and his home is burned to the ground by roughians. That’s right. They don’t mess around in this film! It’s pretty dark to begin with.
Then a man named Ben Haramad abducts Aaron and forces him to join his circus of nitwits. Aaron becomes very bitter towards the people watching him in the circus and to Ben. At one point Ben paints a smile over Ben’s face because he refuses to smile for the crowds. It looks kind of like the Joker.
Aaron meets a group of Wise Men from East heading towards a new born King. Aaron escapes but as they head to Bethlehem Aaron’s sheep is injured and near death.
Aaron presents his sheep before the Christ-child and plays his drum as his gift. The sheep is healed and Aaron feels joy. It’s really quite a lovely moment.
I was ready to give this one a pass at first- especially when it got so grim and sad but by the end it had won me over. I liked seeing the character arc of Aaron and the whole sequence at the nativity was lovely.
The other standouts are a great voicecast with Greer Garson, Teddy Eccles, Jose Ferrer, Paul Frees, and June Foray
The music is also really special by Rankin/Bass regulars Maury Laws and Jules Bass. I particularly loved the Vienna Boys Choir throughout which fit for a story about a little boy.
Of course we get our title song and I think it was all handled beautifully.
So The Little Drummer is definitely a film worth a watch. It’s only 25 minutes (made in 1968) so what have you go to lose!
Some movies from your childhood when visited as an adult hold up (Winnie the Pooh for example) and others not so much. I hate to say it but I think Rankin/Bass Frosty the Snowman is the latter. It’s another one of the specials that as an adult feels strange and is really designed for very small children- and even for them there might be stuff that is upsetting for them. Don’t hate me but I didn’t really like it…
Frosty the Snowman was made in 1969 for CBS and it was the first time Rankin/Bass did a traditional cel animation. To the team’s credit the animation looks fine. It’s bright and colorful and doesn’t look terribly dated. It kind of reminds you of something you’d see on a Saturday morning television in the 80s.
That said I think Frosty looks more like a marshmallow than a snowman. For Frosty I wonder if stop motion would have looked better like the snowman in Elf.
But anyway the story is about a group of kids that find the discarded hat of a magician named Professor Hinkle. They decide to build a snowman and little Karen decides to call it Frosty. Professor Hinkle has a rabbit named Hocus Pocus who tries to get the hat but it is placed on the snowman and the magic makes Frosty alive.
I didn’t really like Professor Hinkle or Hocus Pocus. It was strange the way they kept bothering these little kids and it just wasn’t funny and was a little mean to me. Like little Karen is freezing and a fire is lit and he blows it out for no real reason. Frosty has the hat not Karen and Frosty obviously isn’t by the fire.
And then it gets really weird with the temperature suddenly warming up and so Frosty decides to take a refrigeration unit on a train to the North Pole, which is evidently far away because it costs $3000 to go there. The strange part is Karen goes with them as kind of a lark, which I found odd. This is evidently very far away to cost $3000, not just a day trip.
But I know I am over thinking it but Karen gets sick from the cold refrigeration car so they abandon the train and Professor Hinkle is fast on their tails. He ends up trapping Karen and Frosty in (Spoiler alert!) a greenhouse and Frosty becomes a puddle on the ground. It’s really quite a strange and upsetting story when you think of the very small children it is aimed at. Karen almost dies, Frosty is gone but at least Hinkle gives Santa the hat back after he is threatened with no more presents for the rest of his life. It’s just odd story.
The voice cast is great with Jimmy Durante as the narrator, Jackie Vernon as Frosty, June Foray as Karen, and Billy De Wolfe as Professor Hinkle.
The Frosty song is featured of course and a few other songs but nothing stands out too much.
Frosty the Snowman is probably a fine diversion for small kids and at 24 minutes it’s fine for watching with the fam at Christmas but over all I didn’t really care for it. It’s just so odd and I kind of wish it wasn’t so gloomy and morose in feel, but perhaps that’s just me.
What about you? Is Frosty the Snowman a special part of your holiday viewings? Do you love it? Have you seen it in a while? Let me know in the comments.