MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Day 25 – It’s A Wonderful Life – Christmas Movie Review 2016

I will be hard pressed to ever find a better Christmas movie embodying the hope of believing in the magic of Christmas than It’s A Wonderful Life. Have you ever considered what the world would be like had you never been born? You might be surprised, and it might inspire you to share a kind word or a smile – you never know what makes the difference in another’s life.

From Day 25 – CHRISTMAS – 2015:

Drum roll please. Merry Christmas! I’ve saved the best for last, and though you may have already guessed, the Day 25 selection for my Christmas Movie Review on Christmas Day is It’s A Wonderful Life – 1946, Liberty Films.

Day 25 - It's a wonderful life
I choose this movie for one reason.

It’s my favorite.  (The fact that we named our dog ZuZu might tip my hand.)

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George and Zuzu

headshot as an elf

ZuZu’s first Christmas

Why it is my favorite? Continue reading

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Day 24 – Christmas With The Kranks – Christmas Movie Review – 2016

Even if you’re overwhelmed by all the “commercial-ness” the holidays bring, Christmas With The Kranks will help you find Christmas in your heart. And… the bikini scene alone is worth the laughs! This movie is a perennial winner.

From Day 14, 2015:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Or not.

My Day 14 selection for my Christmas Movie Review Countdown is Christmas With The Kranks – 2004, Feature Family/Comedy.

Day 14 - Christmas-with-the-Kranks

Since we aren’t putting up a tree this year (thanks to crazy new kitty Storm, aka El Niño), I can identity with the premise of not doing Christmas for a change. Kind of. At least the decorations.

Based on John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) Krank anticipate a bleak Christmas because their daughter will be away from home for the first time as she travels with the Peace Corp.

In an unadulterated example of marriage manipulation at its finest, Luther convinces Nora to save money by spending less than their last year’s Christmas cash outlay of over $6,000 to go on a ten day cruise, and not spend the holiday at home where they’ll be depressed missing their daughter.

The hi-jinks begin as word spreads that the Kranks are boycotting Christmas; no Christmas cards, cookies, donations, decorations, annual Christmas Eve party – nothing, and they hit a wall of resistance from neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

To get Nora in the vacation mode and her mind off avoiding the Boy Scouts pressuring them to buy their annual tree, Luther convinces her to start tanning for their cruise which leads to one of the funniest moments of the movie.

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Keeping it real.

Side note:  I love Jamie Lee for not shying away from the camera as a middle-aged woman coping with the shock of a wearing a bikini for the first time in she-can’t-remember-when.

Dan Akroyd is perfect as the neighborhood enforcer with his gang of revenge-hungry Boy Scouts leaning on the Kranks to decorate the house (with Frosty at the pinnacle) so they can win the lighting contest.

And for those of us who’d like to see more airtime for cats, there is a small modicum of ironic kitty revenge woven into the story.  =^.^=

Without giving away the rest of the plot, this is a genuinely laugh-out-loud movie with unexpected twists that keep it grounded, and bring us back to the meaning of what Christmas is all about.

Yes, of course. I give this movie 5 of 5 blow-up Frosty’s. ♥♥♥♥♥

Day 23 – Prancer – Christmas Movie Review 2016

Oh my. I can’t believe I missed seeing Prancer until this year. Written by Greg Taylor, and originally debuting in 1989 through Orion Pictures, it’s not as mainstream as other Christmas movies. I’ve been waiting two weeks for the library to call, and finally watched it here. I can’t wait to watch it again on a bigger screen.

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For anyone who’s ever been that awkward kid, not quite dressed right, with the loudest off-key voice in the choir, and who continued to have faith in the unseen, magical world of childhood beliefs, you will immediately be sucked into the earnestness of almost-nine year old Jessica.

A full moon is predicted for Christmas Eve, when even more magical things happen. Jessica misses her deceased mother, fights with her older brother, and routinely challenges her working-to-get-by father as he slogs through his own grief.

She and BFF (most of the time), Carol, watch in horror as one of the decorative reindeer being hoisted over the main street, falls to the ground and breaks in two. It’s Prancer, and he can’t be put back together again.

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Subsequently, Jessica happens upon an injured reindeer, who looks exactly like Prancer, and takes it upon herself to hide the creature from her father, call the vet behind his back, work for the most frightening recluse in town to earn enough to buy oats (when all her Christmas cookies run out) for Prancer, and sends a letter to Santa with her plan for Christmas Eve.

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Prancer has a sweet tooth.

I won’t go any further than that, except to say that nothing goes smoothly – nor should it – when there’s an hour left in a movie.

But that’s okay, as the stakes increase, the tension rises, and the most tender scenes between Jessica and the rest of her world occur during this time.  Her favorite part of that famous New York Sun 1897 editorial to (also eight year old) Virginia goes like this:

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, or even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. (Full text of that editorial here.)

Rebecca Harrell Tickell plays the indomitable Jessica and I want to see more of her work; she was that good. She was supported by a stellar cast, including Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda, Michael Constatine, and Ariana Richards.

Prancer earns 5 of 5 “Yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus.” ♥♥♥♥♥

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! It’s good to believe!

Day 22 -The Santa Clause – Christmas Movie Review 2016

I had not seen this movie before last year. Now, every single time I notice it listed on the TV Guide, I’m compelled to stop and watch. When a movie is good, it’s good. So is Tim Allen.

From Day 7, 2015:

The Day 7 selection for my Christmas Movie Review embraces all that makes me fall in love again with the magic of Christmas – The Santa Clause, 1994, because it’s timeless.  Thank you, Walt Disney.

Day 7 - The Santa Clause

The basic premise is that the main character, Tim Allen, finds himself in a position where he cannot refuse becoming Santa when he inadvertently agrees to a magical contract. Continue reading

Day 21 – A Christmas Story – Christmas Movie Reviews 2016

A Christmas Story earned top marks in 2015, and also warrants an encore review. I love this movie. It still rates 5 of 5 Secret Decoder Rings!  ♥♥♥♥♥

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From Day 24, 2015:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and the Day 24 selection for my Christmas Movie Review is… yes, A Christmas Story – 1983, MGM. Those who know me well will wonder what took me so long to review this movie.

Day 24 - A christmas story

The answer is simple. I want to end my 25 day Countdown to Christmas with positive reviews – no big surprises – but movies you can count on to bring a smile and a little “believing to see” the miracles around.

This movie is seen through the eyes of a nine -year-old named Ralphie who has a mom with a heart of gold and a father who is all business. Oh, and he has an embarrassing kid brother named Randy who only seems to eat if he can oink like a pig.

The story probes the depths of being a kid in the 40’s who has his heart set on a Red Ryder BB gun that nobody, including his mom, his teacher, nor even Santa Claus thinks he should have.  He sets out to make his case to ensure he’ll attain his most cherished desire.

Through Ralphie’s minute-by-minute life observations, it’s easier to accept how weird our own families are by comparison. Watching his family’s hi-jinks puts the fun back in dysfunctional.

If you’ve seen this movie, you’ll know all the best parts.  I’m going to share only a few images so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered this treasure of a Christmas movie.

For those of you who think  you already know everything there is to know about A Christmas Story, here’s a fun quiz to test your knowledge.

 

Day 24 - certificate

Obviously I need to watch this movie again. How did you do?

Of course, I’m giving this movie 5 of 5 Secret Decoder Rings. ♥♥♥♥♥

Was it double or triple dog dare?

 Was it double or triple dog dare?

 

They look normal.

They look normal.

 

Oinking.

Oinking.

 

Thanks, Aunt Clara.

Thanks, Aunt Clara.

 

In His Dreams

In His Dreams

 

The original bubble suit.

The original bubble suit.

 

Do you think it was an accident?

Do you think it was an accident?

Day 20 – The Road To Christmas – Christmas Movie Reviews 2016

You might think Lifetime’s 2006 The Road To Christmas is one more stranded heroine forced to road trip with the “wrong” guy on her way to marry the “right” guy movie, but it’s a good one. It might even be the prototype for some of the films that followed. (Here are two that I reviewed last season: The Flight Before Christmas & A Christmas Detour)

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What makes the difference between a memorable, but similar, concept?

For one, a great cast. Jennifer Grey as Claire, and Clark Gregg as Tom, are the leads.

Lorne Cardinal, plays an iconic funny innkeeper. I love him.

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He makes me laugh.

For two, the chemistry.  At times, there’s an almost Doris Day/Rock Hudson vibe going on.

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This is part of the chemistry.

For three, most of the dialogue is also real, funny, and smart. Especially that between teenage Hilly, and her widower father, Tom.

And four, a slightly different twist at the end. Trust me.

With Claire on her way to her fairy-tale Christmas Eve wedding with her Italian love, Lorenzo, of course she discovers that maybe, just maybe plain old Tom has more to offer than originally thought. What could be more fun than stopping at the International Hubcap Museum?

The only thing I wonder is whether Claire would have taken action, had not the action of others taken her to an inevitable crossroads.

Though some might find this movie a bit sappy, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would watch it again.

The Road To Christmas earns 4.5 Christmas Flannel PJ’s. ♥♥♥♥.5

 

 

Day 19 – Becoming Santa – Christmas Movie Review 2016

Last season I watched Lifetime’s 2015 Becoming Santa by Barbara Kymlicka. I ran out of days in December to review it, so I watched it again this year, and enjoyed it even more.  Side note: Ms. Kymlicka has written numerous Christmas movies (and other genres), including A Bride For Christmas, which earned 5 of 5 Golden Rings in my 2015 review lineup.

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Yes, that’s Michael Gross from Family Ties under that Santa curly-que mustache. Even more surreal is Meredith Baxter playing Mrs. Claus. You almost expect to see Michael J. Fox, who would’ve made a superb elf. In his absence, Gabe Khouth is cast perfectly as Mario the Elf, simultaneously protective, wise, and witty.

Reminiscing aside, Michael and Meredith are simpatico as Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

They’re both a bit stunned when their daughter Holly brings home her boyfriend, Connor, to meet them right before Christmas, as Holly thinks he’s on the verge of proposing. They welcome him with open arms as Holly says “He’s the one.” He loves Christmas, inventing toys, and he makes her happy.

Her parents are a little concerned that she hasn’t shared one important thing with Connor. Her future husband will become the next Santa when her father retires. There are “duties” he’ll have to perform.

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Such as… eating untold thousands of cookies on Christmas Eve as he hopscotches around the globe, sliding down chimneys, driving the sleigh, and not waking children when he delivers their gifts.

Things his rival, Jack Frost, can do handily, as he’s been training since he and Holly were kids.

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Jack’s as ingratiatingly swarmy as Eddie Haskell in Leave It To Beaver.

Leave it to Jack to throw a snowball into Holly’s plans and challenge Connor’s confidence, as he makes his move to woo Holly back.

Does Connor love Holly enough to believe he could be the future Santa?

Overall, this is a fun romp. I especially like that independent Rudolph shows up just in time for take off every year.

Becoming Santa earns 4 of 5 Sips of Santa’s Special Sherry.  ♥♥♥♥

santas-sherry

Ho! Ho! Ho! 

Day 18 – Sleigh Bells Ring – Christmas Movie Review 2016

Pretty hot off the press following Hallmark’s 2016 World Premier for Sleigh Bells Ring, I wish I’d watched the credits more closely instead of relying on IMDB or the rest of the Internet for more details, such as who wrote, directed it, supporting actors in the movie, and more. So far, I cannot locate those details.

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If the cyber-info doesn’t catch up by the next showing, I will be primed and ready when the credits are rolled!

I enjoyed this movie for what it was. Definitely hitting all the Christmas fun stuff – parade, Santa’s magical sleigh, and decorating the tree; it aimed for the heart of regrets, misunderstanding, and lost love. But did it hit its mark?

If you want a movie where you can predict which pay offs will follow which set ups; there are few surprises, so it’s a great choice.

The biggest surprise to me was the fact that our heroine, Laurel, is divorced from her husband Kevin for over seven years. She reveals this over halfway through the movie when her “almost” fiance, Alex, asks if she’s raised her daughter, Scarlett, on her own.

What I find interesting is that throughout the movie, almost everyone, even Alex, asks her what went wrong between Alex and her, yet no one ever bothers to ask what went wrong between her and Kevin? Where is Kevin? Deadbeat dad, or does Laurel want it that way, and if so, why? She laments about the hardship of raising a child all by herself (since her parents moved to warmer pastures), so I think it’s a fair question.

The basic premise of this film is that two weeks before Christmas, the task of reviving the town’s Christmas parade is dumped into Laurel’s lap by her boss, the mayor, who baits her with the temptation of a great promotion. When she finds a sleigh as the centerpiece for the parade, she has to rely upon Alex, who’s back in town to help his aunt sell her antique shoppe years after Laurel and he broke up, to help paint and fix the sleigh.

The sparks are still there, but the way they broke up in the past still haunts them. Enter the magical sleigh, an entity unto itself, which seems driven to put itself in the path of either Alex or Laurel, so they have to return it to the other and talk again.

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Eventually, as the parade approaches, Laurel must decide if she will tell Alex the truth about how she feels toward him,and Alex must decide if he really wants that big promotion in New York City, or if what he truly desires is right in front of him.

Sleigh Bells Ring earns 2.5 of 5 Magic Sleighs. ♥♥.5

Day 17 – Snow 2: Brain Freeze – Christmas Movie Reviews 2016

Last season I reviewed Snow and gave it a 3 of 5 Flying Reindeer.

This year, I watched the sequel, ABC Family’s Snow 2: Brain Freeze, 2008, also written by Rich Burns.

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Sequels often don’t live up to their originals. As the film opened, I wondered if this would be the case.

Nick Snowden, aka Santa, notices just a few days before Christmas that the reindeer have put on weight and will be unable to get off the ground to fly the sleigh on Christmas Eve. He blames Sandy, his still newlywed wife, for over-indulging them, and uses his magical mirror abilities to transport himself to a big city gym to get tips for them to lose weight.

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As he worries too much about getting it all right on the big day, he unwittingly shuts out Sandy, who stews over the two of them not being able to have a Christmas of their own, plus she has something she wants to tell him.

Their lack of communications leads to a spat, and he goes through the mirror portal. This time he arrives in the garage of an old friend of his parents, but before he gets his bearings, a falling item jostled by his arrival conks him on the head, and he suffers a total memory loss.

This opens the door (and the mirror too) for all sorts of hi-jinx to abound.

The main three actors from the original movie are back again which preserves the continuity from the original.

Though the initial scenes worried me a bit with slapstick sequences that seemed a bit overdone, and a premise that seemed a bit contrived, by midway I was all in – I wanted to know the final outcome and how it would be brought about.  All the loose ends wrapped up sweetly, and Tom Cavanagh’s Santa did not disappoint. I especially appreciated the way he used so many Christmas euphemisms while suffering from memory loss

The magic book and its keeper were a treat, as well.

This sequel is as good as its original and earns 3 of 5 Magical Mirrors. ♥♥♥

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Santa can use any mirror.

Day 16 – (Two For One Special) – Holly’s Holiday & A Christmas Wedding Date – Christmas Movie Review 2016

So many holiday movies this season – so little time left before Christmas! I watched these movies back-to-back on Lifetime and though they offer different plotlines, they both struck a similar chord (Maybe it was a Friday night date night theme…), so Day 16 includes a review of each:

Holly’s Holiday, 2012, written by Justine Cogan and Andrea Janakas.

A Christmas Wedding Date, 2012, story by Jeffrey Schenck & Peter Sullivan; screenplay by Peter Sullivan and Fred Olen Ray.

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Holly, of course, is our heroine.

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Rebecca is our heroine.

Both these single ladies, Holly and Rebecca, live shallow lives and don’t realize the perfect man for them is someone they’ve already rejected.

Again, though their stories are topically different, even more similarities stand out:

  • Both are career-driven.
  • Both want perfect lives.
  • They both change in big ways, though Rebecca has a bigger story arc as she has some real issues lurking judging by her original callousness (and downright meanness) as she tries to cover up her high school pain and hurt. Holly’s arc is more about reassessing her priorities as she matures.
  • Both suffer a bump to the head before the “real story” begins.
  • Elements of magic enter into their predicament:
    • Holly’s “dream man” is a dream man – the mannequin she admires comes to life after she is knocked unconscious.
    • Rebecca has to repeat a most frustrating day in her life until she gets it right – courtesy a taxi driver/angel, aka Mr. Destiny, played by George Wendt. (Yes, Norm on Cheers.)
  • Both these movies are challenged by timeline issues and unanswered questions. The most taxing for me include:
    • What exactly does the twinkling ornament George gives Rebecca do?
    • Why doesn’t Chad tell Rebecca nothing happened between him and Molly the first time she asks instead of waiting until the last time she asks? (It seemed like fifty times, but I stopped counting.) Especially since the whole reason they broke up at least 10 years earlier hinges on this one factor.

Moments of over-acting, inconsistent details, too direct/unrealistic dialogue, heavy-handed messages, and the points listed above, can each distract a viewer enough to flavor the entire movie.

Neither of these movies reached the potential I hoped they each would.

As a screenwriter, even if a movie isn’t quite what I anticipate, I watch for something the movie does right, and/or something I can learn and use as I move forward with my own writing.

In Holly’s Holiday, I loved the poses Bo (and his parents) relived as they recounted their favorite “jobs”. These scenes were Saturday Night Live funny.

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Bo as a mannequin.

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The muscle shirt pose.

I also enjoyed the character and fresh portrayal of Milo by Jeff Ward. Without Holly realizing it, he rocked her world.

In A Christmas Wedding Date, one of the initial scenes captures comic realism when the HR person tiptoes around Rebecca’s being downsized and confuses her with another employee.

Combined, these two movies earn a shared total of 4.5 of 5 Christmas Dates. You decide who gets the edge.  ♥♥♥♥.5

christmas-date-bread

Christmas Date Bread