Title: Elf Release Date: November 7, 2003 Director: Jon Favreau Production Company: New Line Cinema | Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions Summary/Review:
I guess I’m a little bit of a Grinch, because I finally watched this “beloved Holiday classic” for the first time and it didn’t resonate with me at all. There’s not even really anything that I can find to criticize about it, I just found it to be almost funny without every really being funny. Will Ferrell does a great job as Buddy, an elf at Santa’s a workshop, who discovers that he was really an orphaned human and goes off to New York City to find his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan).
I can appreciate Ferrell’s performance as a wonderous child in an adult body. I also like that this movie avoids cynicism and really commits to the belief in the Christmas spirit. But maybe because of these things there’s also no real conflict and everyone just seems easily won over by Buddy. I don’t know, I hate to poopoo on everyone’s favorite holiday movie, but this one wasn’t for me.
Title: The City of Lost Children Release Date: May 17, 1995 Director: Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet Production Company: Canal+ | Centre National de la Cinématographie | Eurimages | France 3 Cinéma | Televisión Española Summary/Review:
The Brattle Theatre podcast stated that The City of Lost Children is a Christmas movie, so I’m going to run with it since I’ve been meaning to rewatch this classic for some time. The makers of another classic, Delicatessen, created this visually-stunning, creepy yet heartfelt story about chosen family and hope in dire times. The setting is a gritty port city (kind of a dystopian version of Sweet Haven from Robert Altman’s Popeye) populated by sideshow performers, a criminal gang of orphans run by malicious conjoined twins, and a religious cult of Cyclops who kidnap children.
Many of these children are delivered to an evil scientist Krank (Daniel Emilfork) on an oil rog who is stealing their dreams because he can’t dream himself. Working with Krank are a half-dozen clones (all played by Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), a dwarf named Marth (Mireille Mossé), and a brain in a fish tank named Uncle Irvin (Jean-Louis Trintignant). This all really begins to make sense over time as details are revealed. In retrospect, I wonder how much this movie influenced the tv adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Into this milieu enters the strongman One (a brilliant performance by Ron Perlman) whose world is turned upside down after his carnival manager is stabbed and his little brother, Denree (Joseph Lucien), is abducted. He aligns with a member of the orphan gang, Miette (Judith Vittet), to track down his little brother. The bond formed between One and Miette is what makes this film great, and I’m very impressed by the 10-year-old Vittet’s acting chops. I looked at her IMBD page expecting her to be in lots of great movies as an adult, but alas her acting career was very short (although she does work in costuming for French tv series).
This movie is absolutely brilliant but it has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and the Krank dream sequences contain imagery of many creepy Santa Clauses, so there is your Christmas content. The themes of hope and family, though, make it even more relevant to the holiday.
Title: A Very Murray Christmas Release Date: December 4, 2015 Director: Sofia Coppola Production Company: American Zoetrope Summary/Review:
How time flies! I thought to myself that I should finally watch that highly-regarded Bill Murray special on Netflix that came out, was it last year? No, it was five years ago. Five Christmases based and I neglected to watch this hour-long special. Was it worth the wait? Maybe not, but it is mildly entertaining.
The premise is that Bill Murray (playing himself, or at least the version of himself he plays all the time) is hosting a celebrity-studded live Christmas special in New York. But a blizzard means no one else can participate in the show and Murray is distraught. After wrangling Chris Rock into an awkward duet of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the power goes out and the show is canceled. Murray makes his way to the lounge where he basically starts a karaoke party with the other guests and staff stranded there (played by a bevy of celebrities including David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, and the band Phoenix). Finally Murray passes out drunk and dreams of an elaborate stage show with Miley Cyrus and George Clooney as guests.
I went into this thinking it was a parody of corny old Christmas variety specials and about a third of the way realized that it’s a homage to corny old Christmas variety specials. Really, it’s almost entirely musical performances tied together by a meager storyline. Murray is surprisingly a great vocalist in his own right and sings well with all his guest talent. The humor of the show is light and really the only time I bust a gut was when George Clooney popped out from behind a tree to sing the chorus of “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”
Is it an all-time Christmas classic? Maybe not, but it was worth finally getting around to watching to get myself into the holiday spirit this year.
Title: Christmas in Connecticut Release Date: August 11, 1945 Director: Peter Godfrey Production Company: Warner Bros. Summary/Review:
The movie begins with the travails of WWII sailor Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) who survives 18 days in a life raft and a long recovery in the hospital back home. He becomes obsessed with food and particularly the columns of Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a mother who writes about cooking and domestic life from her farm in Connecticut. The earnest publisher of her magazine, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) learns that Jones is a fan of Lane, and comes up with a publicity stunt of having the war hero spend Christmas at her farm.
There’s only one problem: Elizabeth is a single “career gal” who lives in New York City and knows nothing about cooking. Luckily, Elizabeth’s long-time suitor John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is an architect with an actual farmhouse in Connecticut and is willing to pose at Elizabeth’s husband (and ultimately marry her for real). Elizabeth’s friend Felix Bassenak (S.Z. Sakall) is a restaurateur who agrees to come along and do the cooking. All of this takes way to long to set up in the movie (as it takes too much space for me to summarize) but once all the pieces are set in place, the movie really shines.
When Elizabeth and Jefferson finally meet, it’s love at first site. There are a lot of comic hijinks of Elizabeth trying to keep up with the imagined life of her column, especially for Yardley’s benefit. But the movie is also surprisingly progressive as we learn that Jefferson is actually far more domestic than Elizabeth. This is especially true in a scene where he expertly bathes Elizabeth’s borrowed baby when she has no clue. The babies themselves are in fact left in the care of Sloan’s housekeeper by immigrant women working in war factories. The war has turned traditional gender roles upside down and this movie seems to be saying that they don’t need to go back to them. Stanwyck’s performance is particularly brilliant and she delivers lines that clearly indicate that she’s had it with societal expectations even as she’s forced to go along with them. (For more on the subversive elements of this movie see this recent article from the AV Club).
The slow start to this movie could use some judicious editing, and there are some subplots I’ve left out of my summary that aren’t too interesting, but overall, once this movie gets to Connecticut it’s a great rom-com. By the way, despite the movie taking place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it is not a particularly Christmas-y movie. Also, in an odd bit of trivia, this movie was remade in the 1990s as a tv movie directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger! I’m not going to watch that one.
Title: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Release Date: December 18, 1966 Director: Chuck Jones | Ben Washam Production Company: Cat in the Hat Productions | MGM Animation/Visual Arts Summary/Review:
With all the remakes and the ever-growing Grinch Industrial Complex, it’s easy to forget how short and simple this original adaption of the Dr. Seuss’ book is. It does bring together some remarkable talent, including legendary cartoon director Chuck Jones. The animation is noticeably superior to A Charlie Brown Christmas of a year earlier. It also features the voice talents of Boris Karloff as the narrator and June Foray as Cindy Lou Who. And the golden voice of the awesomely-named Thurl Ravenscroft sings the original diss track, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The Grinch of course is relatable to anyone who gets a bit grumpy about the commercialism and trappings of Christmas, so this show holds up well.
Title: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas Release Date: December 4, 1977 Director: Jim Henson Production Company: Henson Associates Summary/Review:
I’d heard about Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas when I was a child, but somehow I never caught it on tv and later in life I just couldn’t find. Being a lover of otters and Jim Henson, I’m glad that I finally was able to watch it this year. Henson and his associates created a charming Appalachian village populated with several down-home animals including the titular Emmet (Jerry Nelson) and his mother, Alice (Marilyn Sokol). In this “Gift of the Magi” inspired story, Emmet and Alice each hope to win the prize in a talent show so they can get one another the perfect gift. Emmet pokes a hole in his mother’s washtub to start the jug band, while Alice pawns Emmet’s tools to get fine clothing for her singing performance. It’s a sweet story with great music and fantastic set design and puppetry tricks that still hold up. I’m so glad I finally got to see this!
Title: A Charlie Brown Christmas Release Date: December 9, 1965 Director: Bill Melendez Production Company: Lee Mendelson Films Summary/Review:
It’s not the nostalgia talking, this show is really just great. This groundbreaking tv special deals with seasonal depression, crass consumerism, and even made aluminum Christmas trees go out of style. Add to that a banging jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. And it does all this in a story about kids putting on a Christmas play in limited animation by the Graphic Blandishment team.
Merry Christmas! Today I will be posting my reviews of my binge-watch of holiday movies. Enjoy!
Title: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Release Date: November 9, 1999 Director: Alex Mann, Bradley Raymond, Jun Falkenstein, Bill Speers, & Toby Shelton Production Company: Walt Disney Television Animation | Disney Video Premiere Summary/Review:
This anthology film is made up of three shorts staring the Disney Fab Five. The first segment (and the best) has Huey, Dewey and Louie wishing every day would be Christmas and finding that the day is less special when it’s repeated Groundhog’s Day style. Next, Goofy tries to make a perfect Christmas for his son Max, who begins doubting the existence of Santa Claus. Finally, Mickey and Minnie create a modern interpretation of “The Gift of the Magi.” It’s a good holiday film to watch with young children although it’s not anything special.
Merry Christmas! Today I will be posting my reviews of my binge-watch of holiday movies. Enjoy!
Title: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special Release Date: November 17, 2020 Director: Ken Cunningham Production Company: Atomic Cartoons | Lucasfilm |The LEGO Group Summary/Review:
This animated, LEGO-fied Disney + special is a funny take on the Star Wars universe, holidays specials, and the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special of 1977. Set after Rise of Skywalker, Poe is eager to celebrate Life Day with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk, while Rey looks for some wisdom to make her better at training Finn to use the force. Her journey leads her to find an Jedi artifact that opens portals through time so she can travel through time and witness Jedi masters training their apprentices. Things go wrong and soon characters from throughout the Star Wars timeline are mingled together, leading to some great gags such as Kylo Ren meeting his hero Darth Vader and the Emperor, and three different versions of Obi-Wan Kenonbi greeting one another with “Hello there!” It’s a good laugh for Star Wars fans who have a sense of humor.