Title: The Bishop’s Wife Release Date: December 9, 1947 Director: Henry Koster Production Company: Samuel Goldwyn Productions Summary/Review:
Post-World War II cinema offers many examples supernatural beings offering inspiration to the film’s protagonist. These include angels (A Matter of Life and Death and It’s a Wonderful Life), Santa Claus (Miracle on 34th Street), and the … ghost(?) of a girl (Portrait of Jennie). Add to this The Bishop’s Wife, in which Cary Grant plays the dapper angel Dudley who answers the prayers of the titular Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) and his wife Julia (Loretta Young).
The problem is that Henry has become estranged from Julia and their old friends because he’s caught up in fundraising for a new cathedral. And so Dudley steps into help by showing Julia a good time and falling in love with her. This movie gets really awkward really fast especially since Dudley is awesome and Henry is a fuddy-duddy and we don’t really know who we should be rooting for in this bizarre love triangle. There are some lovely performances and some charming moments, but the movie just feels off to me. It’s not a surprise that it didn’t become a Christmas classic.
Title: Tangerine Release Date: July 10, 2015 Director: Sean Baker Production Company: Duplass Brothers Productions | Through Films Summary/Review:
On Christmas Eve in Hollywood, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender sex worker just released from 28 days in jail, learns that her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been unfaithful. Sin-Dee goes on a rampage hunting down the cisgender sex worker Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) for revenge. Meanwhile, her compatriot Alexandra (Mya Taylor) tags along trying to prevent “drama” and promoting her musical performance at a local bar. While this is all happening, we also see Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) pick up passengers, and also be a customer of Alexandra and Sin-Dee, as well as have Christmas dinner with his family.
As you may have guessed, this is not your traditional Christmas movie. The humor can be very dark, but also offers a real glimpse into a subculture. The film was shot on iPhones which helps lend it a verite feel. I thought things get very grim for all the main characters by the end of the movie, but it ends with a scene of kindness that lends a sweetness to the whole movie.
Title: Klaus Release Date: 8 November 2019 Director: Sergio Pablos Production Company: Netflix Animation | Sergio Pablos Animation Studios | Atresmedia Cine Summary/Review:
I heard good things about Klaus, but ended up sorely disappointed. Let’s start with the good things. This movie is gorgeous, and a rare example of hand-drawn animation in this day and age of computer imaging. There are shots of birdhouses swaying in beech trees with the sun filtering through that are stunning. Unfortunately, the animation isn’t supported by a good story or characters. The movie purports to be a reimagining of the Santa Claus mythos and every moment it winkingly lets you know how some different element of Santa Claus was created.
The story is set on a remote island in the northern latitudes where the son of the postmaster general is sent to work as punishment for his self-centeredness and laziness. The first flaw of this movie is that Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman) is so obnoxious in that ironic, detached manner of characterization that should’ve died in the 1990s. Jesper finds himself in a town with an ongoing feud between the two main families. Their ongoing battles aren’t all that funny, but we sure do get to see a lot of them.
Jesper befriends a woodworker, Klaus (J. K. Simmons), who lives on an isolated part of the island and makes hundreds of toys. Jesper learns he can reach his goal of delivering 6000 letters by having the children write to Klaus asking for toys and then delivering them by night. The beats of the movie that follow are pretty predictable – unexpected changes in the town, a moment of betrayal, a change of heart. The movie wants you to feel everything as magical, but I found myself just getting whiplash between heavy snark and cloying moments.
Title: Robin Robin Release Date: 27 November 2021 Director: Dan Ojari & Mikey Please Production Company: Aardman Animations Summary/Review:
Robin Robin is a stop-motion animated short that has the charm and whimsy typical of Aardman Animations. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and very sweet at its heart. The story is more of your basic misfit’s tale. Robin (Bronte Carmichael) is a young bird raised by a family of mice, under the leadership of the single Dad Mouse (Adeel Akhta). Mice in this story specialize in sneaking and stealing bits of food from humans, which the clumsy Robin is not very good at. But with the help of Magpie (Richard E. Grant) and the the threat of Cat (Gillian Anderson), Robin may find a Christmas miracle and discover himself. It’s not all too original but it is very winsome.
Title: Hawkeye Release Date: 2021 Creator: Jonathan Igla Director: Rhys Thomas (episodes 1,2, & 6), Bert & Bertie (episodes 3-5) Season: 1 Episodes: 6 Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), is the overlooked Avenger, who not only never got his own movie, but was just kind of there when the first Avengers movie began. So this is a belated Hawkeye story that focuses on the aging superhero/dad dealing with the trauma of losing his friend Natasha Romanov as well as hearing loss. Enter Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who as a child witnessed the Battle of New York in 2012 when her house in Manhattan was damaged and her father killed. Seeing Hawkeye’s heroics, Kate dedicated her life to learning archery and martial arts skill.
This series is obviously a “passing the baton” story as Barton just wants to get home to his family for Christmas but gets caught up in a crisis that center around Kate. They have a good chemistry and the show has a good balance of humor, action, and more reflective moments. It also has an surplus of villains including the Tracksuit Mafia, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) – a deaf leader of the Tracksuits set on vengeance against Barton’s alter-ego Ronin, and Natasha’s sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), who was introduced in Black Widow and once again steals scenes left and right.
I won’t go into much detail but it’s an enjoyable series and another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Several years ago I noticed that our local Holiday Music 24/7 station played basically the same 10-12 songs but by various artists. I decide to challenge myself with seeing how many holiday songs I could list without repeating. Eventually this resulted in the Modern Holiday Music Playlist.
I came up with three basic guidelines for the playlist:
The songs would be “modern” in that they would be original songs composed since the emergence of a recorded popular music industry roughly 100 years ago. The list could get a whole lot longer if you added in traditional carols and religious songs from everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world.
Wherever possible I added the earliest recording of the song possible, or a version of the song that is most iconically associated with a particular artists.
The playlists includes songs about Christmas and other winter holidays, as well as winter weather themed songs that have become associated with the holidays even if they weren’t initially written as such.
I’ll admit that not all of these songs are not very good, but I do enjoy listening to it each year at this time. Check out the playlist on Tidal or Spotify below, and let me know if you have any songs I should add.
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.